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L'Hymme à L'Amour

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A pale white flower, shimmering as if in the spotlight of a stage, it's delicate petals fell off its bud and swam in the air before fluttering and coming alive as a swan's feathers. It was a white swan, in the eye of Therese's mind and then in a flash, it was the faded wall of her apartment. The wall came first and then came the sound of honking on the streets and people bustling about their homes. Slowly Therese sat up, slightly dazed from her sleep, and patted around her bed for her phone. She could feel the dull vibration of it running through the fabric of her comforter. Her hand finally landed on a hard lump and she jumped to get the call before it got cut.

"Hello?" Therese immediately regretted not seeing who was calling before picking up.

"Ahh, Therese. Finally." She recognized the voice and it sent a shot through her spine.

"Mr. Harkevy. I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting your call." She heard a low chuckle on the other end of the call.

"Well, I wasn't expecting to call either. But today is full of surprises I guess." Therese was getting more and more perplexed by the second.

"I am sorry, I am not sure I follow." The chuckle followed again.

"Miss Belivet, you got picked up as the assistant stage designer for the upcoming showings of Swan Lake."

At that, Therese's mouth fell open. She was now wide-awake and attentive, wishing Harkevy had repeated himself so she could properly react.

"Hello? Are you still there, Therese?"

"Shit – Yes, Yes I am here. Oh, my god, I can't believe this is happening! Are they sure?" Therese spoke a bit too quickly and a bit too sporadically but it was understandable.

"Of course, they are sure! My recommendations are always given priority. Come to the studio at 8, I'll text you the address." Therese swore her heart would give out any moment.

"Yes, of course. Thank you, Mr. Harkevy."

The line cut off and Therese felt like she was soaring. This was the job she was working for since the day she got into stage designing. Maybe not for Swan Lake but to design a set for a ballet was her goal and she couldn't believe she was about to achieve it. Therese quickly dialed two calls, telling Dannie and Phil about her new placement. Dannie and Phil were friends made through Richard but even after Therese and he had broken up, they remained close. Phil was in the business, they worked on a broadway that had him as supporting role and had grown quite fond of each other. Therese was never one for huge crowds and was happy keeping just the both of them close. It was 8:00 in the morning and the three of them, in celebration of Therese, had already made plans for drinks.

Therese quickly finished her chores with new found energy and in high spirits then headed out to meet Dannie and Phil at an old bar near her apartment by 5:00. Leaves crunched under her feet and the chill cut into her delicate cheeks, she shoved her hands into her jacket pockets and bundled it closer around her frame. Despite the cold she felt warm, it was the bubbling excitement within her. She knew the premise of Swan Lake, a prince meets a queen who had been cursed by an evil sorcerer to turn into a swan by day and only turn back into herself at night, in front of a lake filled with her mother's tears. The curse could only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love the queen, the prince quickly falls in love and swears by her but before he can proclaim his love to break the curse, he is tricked into marrying the sorcerer's daughter after which the swan queen is heartbroken and she decides to kill herself. It was the beauty in tragedy that captured the audience and her mind gave a blank as to how she would help embody it in a set. The volcanic excitement of a new and hopeful project started to turn into anxious tar that now slowed her step and almost stopped her heart. Therese was suddenly aware of the amount of responsibility on her shoulders, going into this under recommendation meant she had to prove herself worthy, she had to get everything right for this was the biggest production she had gotten into.

She reached the bar and heaved the heavy door open with her body. Music and warm air washed over her and she looked across a the bar to spot Dannie and Phil, who were already one beer in and they eagerly waved her over, her anxiety melted at the sight of her friends. Worry will be for another time, right now they celebrate.

"There's the big shot! What's your poison ms assistant stage designer?" Phil enthusiastically patted the seat beside him.

"Drinking before lunch time is a dangerous game you play. I'll just have a soda." Therese knew exactly what even a single beer did to her and decided against it.

"What's a celebration without inebriation?" Dannie spoke before taking a sip of his beer.

"Amen, Dannie boy!" Phil raised his beer to Dannie and Therese laughed fully at her friends' shenanigans.

The next few hours went by with good company. The warmth and comfort of the dark, oak wood furnished bar made Therese almost not want to leave. But she would have to face the music sometime soon and she would rather not be late when Harkevy had personally invited her. Reluctantly, she said her goodbyes to Dannie and Phil and walked out into the cold to hail a taxi. She replayed their best of lucks and well wishes in her head like a mantra, hoping to soothe her nerves. Now she felt shoddy, incompetent, she felt as if Harkevy would see her and immediately change his mind. She drove her nails into her palms, the taxi ride felt more and more agonizing with each passing street sign. It was only 7:20 and she were 15 minutes away and yet she still felt like she would be late and somehow miss the time entirely. It didn't feel like the same day anymore and she kept checking the date to make sure it was today that Harkevy had called her. The building began to appear to her right, an old building that had been repurposed and given an art deco renovation. She slid the taxi driver some money and took her change back with shaking hands that threatened to drop it at any time.

The next 15 minutes were spent researching whatever she could about the ballet and the production house so she didn't seem as lost as she felt when Harkevy did arrive. She realized that she had no idea about what he had in store for her; maybe he would just give her a tour of the studio or ask about her plans, which obviously she had none of. Therese's panic started to rise further reaching the point where she started to feel hopeless about the whole job entirely. A black sedan pulled up in front of her and out came Harkevy. Ivor Harkevy, stage designer extraordinaire turned producer and the man Therese owed her career to, he was patient with her and her extravagant ideas. He had told her multiple times he saw true talent in her but Therese brushed him off every time. She thought if she had true talent, she wouldn't feel so lost right now.

"Hello, Therese. I hope you weren't waiting too long." Therese felt taken aback by his blasé tone as if she had expected him to be angry immediately.

"Not at all. I just came by in fact." A white lie, she had spent 20 minutes ripping her own hair out but it mattered to no one but her.

"Well, I shouldn't make you wait then. Come along, I have to introduce you to the team." Therese froze. She thought of a million different scenarios and this was the most obvious but it hadn't occurred to her. She felt calmer even though the thought of meeting people and presenting herself to them still ground her nerves into a paste.

They made their way in through the front doors that opened into a hall. There were statues and potted plants that adorned the place and a reception desk in the middle of it all, the lighting wasn't bright but it wasn't dim. The hall echoed with the sound of piano and the painful sounding landing of feet on wooden flooring. Therese watched Harkevy wave to who she assumed was the receptionist, she recognized him immediately and she lead them both down the hall to their right. There, Therese saw hundreds of dedicated dancers, with their lithe bodies, mechanically repeating the same moves in unison. It was mesmerizing, like watching gears turn in machines or watching chocolate getting wrapped in factories. She watched the man conducting notice them and make his way over with a warm smile and his arms open in welcome.

"Tony! So good to see you. Here, meet Ms. Therese Belivet. Your assistant stage designer." Therese was suddenly pushed forward by a hand on her back and Tony took her hand and planted a kiss to it's back.

"It is so good to have young talent like you on board our production." Tony gave her a winning smile; something wouldn't be a rare occurrence, Therese wagered.

"Okay! Let's go meet the rest of the team."

And that was that. Therese found herself swept away into a sea of new faces and new names to associate them with. It was pleasant but it happened all too quickly for her. She found herself breathless and eager to find some quiet, to have all of this register in her mind. She stopped listening after the seventh person had given her an introduction and wanted to get away as soon as the opportunity would present itself. She looked to see Harkevy busy with whatever interesting conversation Tony and a few others had held him in.

"Excuse me, I just need to use the washroom." Therese excused herself politely and took the first exit she found. The entire place seemed like a maze, turning in familiar halls made her feel like she was going in circles. She roamed the place till she spotted an open studio and ran towards it, hoping to find someone to guide her. She peered into the doorway and was immediately taken aback by what she saw.

A woman with her back turned to Therese. The lights made her outline glow and it cast shadows on her back in such a delicate way that every muscle that moved, every bone that followed revealed itself in a beautiful dance of light and dark. Therese found herself mesmerized by the woman, who danced without music but it seemed as though her body was playing the notes. She was the instrument and the one who danced to its sound. The woman spun on her toes effortlessly, as if it was the easiest thing to do and she flew through the room like snow on the first snowfall. Soon she turned around and came to a halt to hold a pose. Therese then saw her face, dim and slightly hidden in the shadows but Therese was still awestruck. Her face was just as beautiful as her craft and just like her craft, it held a beauty only time could develop. She must've been around thirty-two. Her eyes were closed, brows knitted in a delicate expression, her cheekbones sharp and chin proud. Her lips parted slightly to catch her breath; Therese lingered on them. In the shadows behind the cracked door, Therese felt breathless; her head swam with every move of the woman's toned body.

Her phone buzzed and she stifled a yelp before moving back into the hall and checking whom it was.

Where are you? We need to leave soon.

It was Harkevy. Therese silently cursed herself, she would have to explain that she is lost but somehow she didn't want to move from where she stood. She wanted to stay frozen there watching this woman- this vision- in front of her till her eyes grew tired. She looked back into the studio and the woman was gone and it was as if she never existed as if she was a mere mirage born out of Therese's nerves and confusion.

All the way from the studio to her home, Therese thought of her, who was she? And would Therese see her again? After she finished up dinner, Therese decided to bury herself into research. The lore behind the ballet, the sets, the costumes, the history and the composition. Everything and anything she could get her hands on were opened in millions of unorganized tabs. She skimmed through most of it then started to listen to the composition. The introduction to the ballet flowed through her headphones, it was dramatic and slow, and she closed her eyes to picture the set she would make for it. She imagined that woman, the woman dancing to the music on her set, with precision and control but also with passion and fluidity. She thought of the dream she had had last night and how it seemed more relevant than just a passing thought. Therese felt like she would meet this elusive creature again.

 

 

Chapter Text

“I see the potential Therese but you’ve clearly been working on plays for too long. This is ballet, we need more drama, more life, more story in our sets”

Therese could only listen. Throughout her set building career, she was told to make it plain, that her sets were too complex, not necessary, less, less, less and now she needed to bring the complexity, build the grandeur, make it excessive, more, more, more. Old habits die-hard and though once this would’ve excited her, the thought of doing more exhausted her. She was already putting in her nights to make her sketches reach a point where she wasn’t embarrassed to pull them out of her bag, ideas seem to escape her or come to her in abstract. She thought too much or nothing at all, her drawing paper would either be scribbled black beyond comprehension or remain a dead ivory.

“You have time. If you need any help I am here for you. Maybe my book will help you. I’ve left it in the studio though so you will have to go across the block.”

“I will get to work then.” Therese managed without choking.

“Don’t be so nervous. You’ll do good” Therese could only return her wry smile.

Then she hid in the pages of her sketchbook. The production house provided a lot more than she could imagine. Every medium and material Therese could desire, every supply she would wistfully look at but turn away from due to the growl in her stomach and an empty wallet. But now she had it, she just didn’t have an idea to execute. Therese was fond of the set she had made, it was supposed to be for Act 1, the garden before the palace where the prince celebrated his birthday. Her set was simple indeed, with hedges on either side of the stage and a distant castle painted in the background, nothing grand so that it didn’t obscure the dancers but it seemed like it was not enough. Therese picked at the leftover dried glue from under her fingernails as if to looking for inspiration in there. Time seemed to have gone still, she didn’t know how many times her playlist had played itself over or had it remained in the same spot but her page still remained empty, without proper direction. Music always seemed to help in setting the mood and guiding her imagination but today all that the Valse did was make her think of something not unwanted but undeniably distracting. Her mind frolicked with the image of pale freckled hands, with fingers flown open like a paper fan with nails painted a fiery red, and muscled arms that drew gestures in the air, telling a tale she so desperately wanted to provide a backdrop for. The thoughts of the same woman still seemed to linger and haunt her. Therese cursed herself, how was she so enamored without even having a name to attach to that gorgeous face.

Lunch came by and so did Phil’s phone call asking Therese to join him since he was in the area. Something Manhattan never seemed to run out of were new places to eat, some were quiet, some were boisterous. Therese didn’t understand the fuss so she stuck to her falafel carts but today both Phil and she had found themselves in the balcony area of some quaint little café. The sun was out and they weren’t about to waste the last sunrays before the snow set in. Phil was going on about trying to find a producer for his play when it hit Therese that Phil might know of her. Therese swallowed her latte without tasting it and tried to think of how she would make this sound like natural curiosity and not some weird obsession that even she didn’t understand.

“So Phil, do you know anything about the ballet scene?” This was her testing the waters.

“Yeah, a little bit. Why? Something you’d like to know?”

“I wanted to know about the lead in my ballet” This was her getting into the simmering steam.

“You must be the only one who doesn’t know then. Carol Aird. Swan Queen for the fifth time in her career. Some say she was built for this role; some say she mars the role but no one dares to question her talent. She is making her come back this year“

Carol. Therese’s mind immediately ran back to her face, to the eyelashes that hid whatever secrets her eyes held, to when the shadows of the studio made Carol look like a black and white photograph. Somehow she exuded the name, elegant and velvety.

“How do you know her? Have you met her?” Therese spoke a bit too soon.

“Someone’s interested. No, I haven’t had the privilege. Saw her at a party once, total arm candy of her husband and candy she was. What a babe I tell you.” Therese’s heart dropped. Of course, she had a husband, but why did Therese care? She barely knew Carol and yet somehow this Carol had burrowed herself in every synapse of Therese’s brain. Therese mulled over Phil’s words while Phil seemed to have happily moved on with the introduction of his sandwich.

“How does she mar the role? Is that why she took a break?” Therese knew she was pressing a bit too much but she didn’t care.

“Jesus Therese, do you want me to get you an appointment with her manager?” Phil spoke through a mouth full of ham and bread, slobbering and flinging flecks everywhere.

Therese lightly slapped his arm and Phil went back to eating. Therese couldn’t get the questions out of her head; the fact that she would probably never get answers for them bothered her more than the innate curious she had. The conversation changed paths and soon enough both of them were back at work. Therese was back in front of the drawing board, only this time her pencil seemed to work in kind with her. Everyone had left, the production studio was empty but Therese was still there, a lone desk map glowing over multiple papers and barely flourishing ideas. Slaving away on endless sheets was so much better than home, where it would be cold because it's not worth turning on the heating yet, here it was warm and cozy, the smell of paint and the starching of graphite were way better than the terrible lullabies of light traffic and late night parties around her apartment. Home was lonely and Therese didn’t think she could handle that today. She was almost done with her base when she remembered the book she was offered, only thing is that she would have to go over to the studio to pick it up. She could use a little walk; her legs felt static, so she carefully flung her jacket over her shoulders and limped her way to the studio.

Night time made the studio look beautiful, the light within in it seemed to seep out of the walls making them glow as if the building held light and only light within it. Therese opened the door to the vaguely familiar lobby and the same familiar footsteps but no music. Hall on the right was the studio but the footsteps didn’t come from there, in fact, there was no one there at all. All it was a cold room with a sterile air about it and through the room played the tap tap of feet hitting hardwood floor, how late was it anyway? Therese was getting nervous now. She seemed to be doing the same thing all over again, roaming stone mazes to find some form of escape, only now she did it in the darkness while following footsteps that seemed to get louder with every turn. Therese felt like she would suffocate but she finally found where the noise came from. Somehow Therese was back to yesterday night as if she had never gotten the message from Harkevy as if she had never gone home to make that awful set as if she had stayed frozen in that moment like she dearly wished to. The woman- Carol was in front of her again, with the same grace, in the same beauty and in the same way Therese felt breathless. This time, she met grey eyes as they turned around, she watches Carol’s stare grow intense and suddenly her trance is shattered.

“Who is it?” Footsteps cease immediately and Carol’s voice booms through the empty studio, deep, demanding, cutting. Therese thought it might have cut through her bones.

“I- I am the assistant stage designer.” Therese stammers out but Carol’s expression doesn’t change. “Shit. I mean I am Therese. Therese Belivet” She didn’t want that ‘shit’ to come out but it did and even though they stood on the far ends of an empty studio, where voices bounced and echo like the inside of a cathedral, Therese was shouting her answers at Carol as if they were oceans apart.

“What do you need?” Carol’s stance didn’t change, one hand curled on her hip and the other hanging loose on by her side, little fly away hairs from her bun stuck to her forehead, her chest rose and fell harshly but Carol didn’t let her fatigue translate on her face.

“I just need a book. But I’ll leave you alone. Sorry I interrupted your-“

“Oh. You should’ve just said that to begin with. It’s no problem. Go ahead.” Carol waved her off. Therese felt her legs barely hold her up, she wouldn’t move a muscle because if she did she would buckle and start weeping. She watched Carol saunter over to her bag and grab her water bottle, only then did she go to grab the book that was kept on a chair across the room. Therese wanted to say something but words left her. Her mouth felt dry and ashen.

“Goodnight” Therese managed while heading out the door.

“Goodnight Therese” Therese hadn’t expected a response and more so hadn’t expected the most radiant smile beaming at her and wishing her a goodnight. Carol was coming closer, back slung over one shoulder, her walk dangerous and slow. She barely brushed past Therese who was again standing still in the doorway, Therese got a whiff of her perfume, musky, and cinnamon smelling, it barely lingered on her skin and mingled with her sweat but it still intoxicated Therese’s senses.

“See you around” and with that Carol was gone and Therese’s heart was left beating a mile a minute. Her brain felt like it would blow a fuse trying to comprehend what had just happened. Heat rose throughout her body and this was maybe the only time Therese thanked the cold air outside.

Now even the thought of Carol bore fruit through Therese’s flesh, she no longer just haunted her thoughts but bloomed through them, Therese reproached herself for exactly how many times she thought of the woman. Carol had an allure, a magnetic pull like the moon to the ocean, it was something Therese had never felt and she could never last against the tides. She found herself at the reception again except now it was early morning and she had a set on hand that needed an appraisal. The idea had struck her on her way home and she had not even taken off her jacket before jumping straight into making the set. The set was still simple, simple in its complexity, it maintained the hedges around the stage only now there were tiny cardboard pillars and sculptures, that were to be decorated by bougainvillea and wisteria, dividing the hedges. The background also maintained the painted distant castle but Therese had painstakingly made a miniature trellis out of matchsticks that would obscure the background and make it look all the more distant, like a dream. Multiple little cuts and blisters littered the tips of Therese’s fingers and they carried the permanent smell of glue, she twisted and crushed her fingers of one hand against the palm of the other while waiting for her call.

“She’s back isn’t she?”

“How can you tell? Can you smell the bitch in the air?”

Therese’s caught the words before the laughter followed. She hated eavesdropping but sometimes it couldn’t be helped.

“I don’t know what’s up with her. I mean she’s a great Odile and all but –“

“Just forget it, dude, everyone is so far up her ass that she forgets that not everyone is used to her shit”

Therese kept her gaze to the floor but followed the two pairs of feet that made their way into the studio. Somehow Phil’s words made it back to her mind – some say she mars the role- but how? Carol’s cutting gaze came to her then and she froze, maybe the smile she saw was an illusion, a fabrication of Therese’s hoping and dreaming mind. Who actually was Carol? Would she be anything like what Therese constantly made of her?

“Miss Belivet. She’s ready for you.”

“Of course. Thank you.” Had it not been for the model in her lap Therese would’ve forgotten why she was there. She went into the office leaving her thoughts behind on the bench.

The meeting was about an hour long but her set was given the green flag and Therese’s chest swelled with pride. A couple of adjustments were to be made but for now, she had proven herself, that thought alone drove Therese enough to work on the little technicalities of the set that usually frustrated her.

The night took over and yet again Therese was working alone in the production house. This routine fits her, burying herself in work felt better than an empty cold apartment with nothing but dust mice as companions. She had felt unsettled since her time in the reception. The growing mystery around Carol left Therese with an itch she couldn’t starch out without drawing blood. Would it be so difficult to go to the studio right now and say hi? Would Carol turn her away? Why would that matter to Therese? After all, Carol was a stranger. Just a stranger; the thought didn’t sit well with her, so she packed up and lead herself to the same studio doorway. Today Carol was on the floor, stretching her limbs and preparing her toes for practice, Therese thought to turn back but Carol had already caught her in the doorway.

“Do you need the book again?” Therese smiled at the fact that Carol remembered. Her feet finally warmed enough for her to walk in.

“No. I just wanted to say hi I guess” Carol’s forehead furrowed slightly, Therese instantly regretted saying anything.

“’What a strange girl you are.” Carol dipped her head again and brought her palms to her toes.

“Excuse me?” Therese thought it might have been an insult but it felt far from it.

“Flung out of space.” Therese watched Carol get up and immediately get into position to start.

Therese stood awkwardly, slightly blushing and looking around the room, anywhere just not at Carol. She took notice of the piano that stood off in the corner.

“How come you dance without music?” Therese blurted out. She heard a tsk come from Carol and was immediately apprehensive about pissing her off again.

“I let the pianist go. He doesn’t need to suffer late night practices with me. I don’t need music anyway” Carol brushed it off, never stopping her dance.

Therese walked over to the piano and ran her fingers over the keys. The sheet music was familiar, her piano teacher was a Tchaikovsky fanatic and insisted that they learn nothing but that. She remembered playing swan lake hours on end till it was perfect enough for her teacher, she laughed at the idea of fate but maybe it was a reality.

“Do you play?” Therese was startled out of her thoughts by the question.

“A little bit. I am not very good probably.”

“Let me decide that. Do you think you can help me with the music?” Carol sounded sure. Therese couldn’t see her face and only assumed she was serious.

She sat on the bench and pulled out her phone and her headphones and plugged only one into her left ear. She played the composition to herself to help with the timings and the feel of the music. Soon her hands started to float over the keys and the room filled with the beautiful music. Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw Carol freeze for a spilt-second before gathering herself again and flowing with the music. Therese wished she could look at her, to take in her dancing form while her own hands provided the sounds that resonated with every step of two pointe shoes but Therese’s eyes remained glued to the sheets of ochre-tinted paper in fear that she may mess up. She went on without question and Carol followed without saying a word, hours passed and still neither one spoke a word and yet with every bar they became more and more one, both working in unison, both working until they broke a sweat and their limbs ached for relief. After Therese’s fingers started to slip more and Carol’s movements fumbled, they both sat on the floor, maybe an arms length away from each other. Carol pulled out a grapefruit from her bag and peeled its skin off, she offered a slice to Therese and she silently accepted.

“How come you are always here at night?” Carol had finally broken the silence once they were half way through the grapefruit.

“It’s nothing. I work late at the production house because my apartment’s a drag.” Therese focused on the patterns she swirled into her ankle with her finger. It was easy to share this with Carol somehow, she felt warm and the familiar rush of exhaustion fogged her mind.

“That makes the two of us.” Therese looked up to see Carol smiling. An easy smile, a bit tired but it was beautiful all the same.

“I cannot imagine anyone wanting to leave you alone for the night” Therese blushed at her own audacity. Carol’s laugh followed and it blew the last sense of reality out of Therese. Now if you asked her, she would believe in fate, religion, destiny and everything that science denied. Therese had been smiling every since she walked in and almost didn’t know how to stop.

“You are very kind. Therese Belivet? Wasn’t it?” Therese nodded and it only struck her then that she had never formally asked Carol for her name.

“And you?”

“Carol”

“Carol” Therese repeated as if she hadn’t already known before. They fell into silence again until Carol started to get up.

“It's late, I should be off” Therese felt her heart drop a little at the thought of this evening ending.

“If you are here every day maybe you could help me out like you did today.”

“Would you?” Therese’s heart fluttered. If every night would be this fun she would forgo sleeping just to have it last forever.

“Yes”

“See you around” Therese watched Carol saunter off again. All that today had been was maybe a demon in heavenly disguise but Therese couldn’t listen to reason when her heart drummed so clearly in her ear.

Chapter Text

Late autumn's breeze flew through Therese's short hair, tickling her neck and making the tips of her ears numb. It carried with it red and orange leaves and the delicate smells of all the fall flowers that were perfectly arranged and displayed in front of her. Therese's set had been accepted and now her job was to bring it to life and to do so she needed the perfect ingredients. She had already sorted the paint samples out, palettes of earthy greens, royal yellows and cold white and blues were lodged in her work folder, along with the sketches she needed to discuss with the architect. Her eyes ran over the array of flowers, those which were as variegated as the palettes in her folder, she carefully picked samples to match with every headpiece of the costumes, for every bouquet that would be brought out and for the decorations of the pillars and the trellis. Dahlias and lilies, climbing hydrangea and Boston ivy, bougainvillaea and roses, as beautiful as they were their smells were equally divine and slowly overpowering to the senses, Therese looked to her right to see orchids, powerful red orchids that looked so beautiful that they demanded attention. The ever-present thought of Carol made its way back to the forefront of Therese's thinking; she brushed over the petals and breathed in the smell.

Therese walked out of the flower shop with an extra bouquet of orchids and made her way back to the studio, her nose still clogged by the perfume of the flowers. She waved to the receptionist, who immediately placed in a call for her.

"She'll be with you in a moment" called the receptionist.

"Alright. Could you look after these for a minute, I just have to meet someone." Therese pointed to the samples and stood up with the orchids in her hands.

She ignored the suspicious look she was given and the reluctant and slow nod the receptionist did, there were better things on her mind. She had no way of knowing where Carol would be but she followed the left hallway down to the dressing rooms, at least she could drop them off if Carol wasn't there. A single door in a row was cracked open and through the muted sunlight it looked as if it had an aura slithering its way out into the hallway, Therese almost immediately knew it was Carol's without looking in. She knocked on the door, meeting Carol eyes in the mirror, Carol ushered her in with a slight raise of her chin. There was an air around her that Therese hadn't felt before, it was cold and demeaning telling the exact tale the whispers around the studio told about Carol. Therese made her way in slowly and was wafted by the overpowering smell of flowers once again, she now noticed all the other bouquets that already adorned the room. There seemed to be endless selections of expensive looking arrangements and exotic looking flowers, all of them strewn, not appreciated as they should be and their presence was condescending to Therese's now meager looking bouquet, Therese's eyes were again caught by Carol's, who looked back at her expectantly through her reflection in the mirror.

"I brought you some flowers. I thought you would like them." Therese's confidence trailed off as the words fell out of her mouth. She brought the flowers forward from behind her back while still looking Carol in the eyes. She could've sworn she saw some warmth in those eyes and that she saw Carol's lips twitch at the corners.
Carol got up suddenly and came to Therese to take the flowers from her.

"Thank you, Therese. These are-," Suddenly, Carol's attention flew to the door and Therese immediately turned around.

"Carole!! You are being called for prac- oh who is your little friend here? a new cat in town?" Therese frowned at being addressed by a stranger like that.

"She's no one Genevieve. Move along I'm right behind you" Carol sighed and placed the orchids with her other bouquets. She brushed past Therese and was out of the room before Therese could even recover from being called a no-one by Carol.

It stung but she couldn't decide what stung more, really being a no-one to Carol or being a lied about. Obviously, she was not a no-one, she had been waiting hand on foot for Carol every night when they practised so why the cold shoulder she thought. Therese stormed back into the lobby, shaking her thoughts out of her head and remembering the real reason she had come to the studio, she gathered her samples and her bag and ran to her senior stage designers office. She frantically apologised for being late only to be informed that she had never been called for. With a soft ‘oh' Therese started to leave the office, maybe the architect would be free to discuss the sketches, maybe, this time, she wouldn't be brushed off again.

It was a hectic day for Therese and she thanked her stars for it. If she didn't have her work to keep her occupied she would have thought over every detail of her interactions with Carol and driven herself mad before even finding out what she did wrong. A whole day of discussions and some arguments, over what length the pillars should be, what would be the best placement as to not obstruct the dancers, what colours best reflected the mood, which god damn flower best went with the tone of the music. All of it was dull, all of it was pretentious, only when there was a disagreement did Therese fully put herself into it but otherwise she had grown tired of using unusual adjectives to confirm her every decision. Night had come along and Therese had no desire to join Carol for practice, thinking why should she help when Carol had hurt her. She was being childish and she was willing to continue but her apartment was in a pitiful state and having cold takeout in front of her laptop and going to bed empty where she would inevitably dream of Carol was not something Therese had been looking forward to doing. Her mind rippled with conflict but her feet had already set her path and she found herself in the studio once again.

Carol had been sitting at the piano, this time, her fingers tracing the keys softly. She looked distant, like a painting frozen on a canvas, Therese looked to her bag that was kept on the piano and she saw a bouquet of familiar red orchids sitting right beside the bag.

"You kept my flowers" Therese finally broke Carol's reverie and she was met with the smile she was dearly missing. Carol had gotten up and taken the flowers in her hands.

"I love orchids. This was the only bouquet that was worth keeping" Carol played with the petals as she spoke smile never leaving her lips.

"I am sorry about this morning Therese" Carol looked up at her, her eyes suddenly intense and her smile vanishing. All of Therese's doubt had melted the minute she saw Carol again and her apology had Therese suddenly feeling overwhelmed. Maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe it was the overload of emotions, but Therese just wanted to fall into Carol's strong arms and stay still till the world flooded away.

"It's alright. I understand" Therese just stood in her place and shot Carol a reassuring smile.

Then everything fell into place and like before practice flowed through time. The hour in which they practised felt separate from the world around them, every feeling, every movement, every gaze in that one hour was different and completely removed from the hours that preceded it and the hours that would come after it. They finished on the floor again, arm length away from each other, sharing grapefruit and talking. Carol carried two now but yet they still ate off of the same grapefruit.

"I like that song but it's not powerful"

"You don't know the power it has live darling" Therese blushed at the term of endearment.

"Are you really so old to have watched it live?" Therese quipped.

"Were you really born yesterday or do you just look like it?" Carol shot back, there was fire in her tone but also amusement. Therese ended up bursting into laughter; she leant forward to hide her smile and was hit by Carol's perfume again. She hadn't realised how close they sat now, fronts to each other and knees almost touching. If she leant any further her head would land in Carol's lap.

"It's getting late. I should be going." Carol frowned at her phone.

"Yeah, otherwise I won't be able to catch the bus." Therese started to collect her stuff.

"You are not going by bus this late Therese. Please, I have a car. Let me give you a ride" Carol had looked at her as if she was scolding a child.

"No no. You'll be late. I can't-"

"Therese," Carol spoke coldly. Therese shivered at her tone and her protests died along with it.

They made their way out of the studio and Therese waited for Carol to bring her car out front. A silver Mercedes rolled up, somehow Therese wasn't surprised. They spent the car ride in silence, with just the radio softly playing music to help the comfortable silence between them. Therese watched familiar roads roll by, the same trees skip past but she felt different, with Carol beside her everything felt different. She looked over to watch Carol, Therese's eyes sliding over from the way her hands gripped the steering wheel lightly to how her eyes squinted a little as she concentrated on the road ahead and how the passing lights cast shadows on her cheekbones making the hollows of her cheeks absolutely black. Everything about this woman was so captivating to Therese, Carol carried herself as such that in whatever she did she was performing as if she was a show of display. Therese would mull over every little action Carol did like an eager little fan because she desperately yearned to know what was behind the curtain of the theatre that was Carol.

"That's my stop. I'll walk from here." Therese started to gather her stuff in an attempt to linger a bit longer.

"You should take my number and text me when you reach home." Carol looked straight ahead, the shadows casting orange light only on the bottom of her face. Therese couldn't tell if she was being serious.

"Umm.. sure. Here." Therese unlocked and handed Carol her phone, she braced herself for the laugh that would follow, for the I was kidding do you really believe anything I tell you that would follow but it never came instead Carol quietly punched her number into Therese's phone and gave her own phone a missed call to save Therese's number as well.

"Thank you for this Carol." Therese exited the vehicle and started on her way back to her apartment.

She opened her door and today the apartment felt warm. It wasn't welcoming and the chipped paint didn't look any better but Therese felt better. She dropped her bag on her desk and immediately texted Carol.

Im home. thank you again – T

After a while, as she changed her clothes and climbed into bed, burying herself under a million blankets her phone buzzed again.

Don't worry about it Darling. It's my pleasure ;) – C

Therese's cheeks felt warm and her cheeks ached as she smiled again.

Goodnight Carol

Goodnight Therese

 

Chapter Text

"Siegfried spots the swans and tries to kill them but stops as one turns into a beautiful maiden."

Therese was being told the story in hushed whispers.

"The maiden is Odette. She is terrified of Siegfried but he assures her that he means no harm. Only then does Odette tell him, that she is the Swan Queen and that she and her companions have been cursed by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart."

Therese watched the ballerinas play out the story being fed into her ears, she saw the prince chase after the swan to know her story, to get him to trust her. Therese couldn't help but wonder what had the prince done to earn that trust? He hadn't told the swan anything about himself and yet the swan pours herself out to the prince. Maybe because she finally found someone who'd listen or maybe she loved the prince without knowing him. Therese thought of how the story ends with Odette taking her own life, simply because she didn't know Siegfried would betray her.

"The swans can only turn human at night, next to the lake of Odette's mother's tears. Von Rothbart cannot be killed otherwise the swans would remain as they were forever so the curse has to be broken by the love of someone who has never loved before."

The words become meaningless at one point because for Therese the piano is now white noise and the low thuds of pointe shoes echoed in her ears. Her eyes followed Carol, like they always do, in the most reverent way. They latch onto every expression Carol makes, every stray hair that falls out of her bun, every move of her taut muscles, they latch on to all the details yet her eyes look at her as a whole, see her as the complete force that she is. Everybody is enamoured, even the envy behind some eyes dissipates as Carol took the form of the swan. Therese could imagine Carol on the set already, her set. That filled her with an unexplainable sense of pride. Her set had been accepted, liked even, by the senior stage designer but Therese wanted to do more, make it bigger, better, more, more, more.

Act 2 was one of uncertainty, a little tragedy but most importantly romance. The prince and the swan were to fall in love and Therese had to provide a background for it, something she had no experience with. Her relationship with Richard was unfulfilling, to say the least, no matter how hard she tried she couldn't reciprocate what Richard felt for her. There was always something missing, a connection, a need, a desire. They were friends yet Richard had pursued her, wanted to know her, wanted to be with her, Therese never knew why because while she enjoyed Richard's company on some days, that's all he ever was to her some good company to enjoy and forget. Good company, Therese thought and with a raucous applause that burst from around her, her attention was brought back to Carol, who now humbly took the praise from the audience. Therese joined the crowd in the applause, feeling a bit guilty for zoning out and missing most of the performance. Though it didn't mean much since Therese remembered every move Carol had done, she had been there as Carol perfected them with a meticulous repetition. She had known them as well as her fingers now knew the ballet on the piano, every night fingers and feet moved in tow, music and body flowed together and their practice would finish with the same applause but it only came from Therese then. She would make it point to stand up from her piano and clap for Carol as she would collapse to the floor in exhaustion but even in that exhaustion Carol would smile at Therese and blush at the applause. Something she didn't do now, something Therese could never imagine her doing in front of anyone. Therese felt closer to Carol than she ever did to Richard, though they knew next to nothing about each other. Even in the hour they would spend talking after practice, Carol never said anything about herself but Therese had never asked either. Their lives were a separate world from the one that existed in the studio at night. Therese caught Carol's gaze as the applause went on and it felt as good as looking at a stranger, someone to find in a crowd then never to see again, being just a stranger to Carol made Therese's stomach churn.

The studio cleared out and Therese went to work, putting all of her thoughts to rest as best she could. She went over her plans for introducing the swans with the lighting department; she wanted to cast silhouettes over the background instead of actually showing the swans, a simple conveyor belt system with the assistance of some light tricks would make the swans look as if they were actually floating across the stage and it would make their entrance a dramatic show of shadow and light. She hadn't gone over this with her senior but she was confident this would get implemented if she presented it perfectly. There was no doubt she would blow over her seniors with this one; her sleepless nights would not go in vain.

Today was warmer; Therese hadn't expected it especially when the leaves still crunched under her foot. She had finished work and was on her way to have lunch with Dannie, who she hadn't seen since she landed this job. Dannie was doing an internship in a research laboratory while still studying to be a physicist so him even getting out of his apartment was a miracle. Walking across the pavement in flow with the crowd, Therese abruptly stopped to get Dannie a study present, a bag of sour gummy worms that she knew he would appreciate. She reached the small café fifteen minutes after she had set foot out of the studio, the inside was even warmer and Therese embraced the smell of coffee, her eyes searched the crowd and found a tousled head of short dark hair buried in a laptop whose cover Therese was much too familiar with. Therese slid into the booth across Dannie and slapped the packet of candy onto the table.

"This is a congratulation for not turning into a complete hobo" Therese pointed to the bag and Dannie followed her finger, taking a minute before registering what was happening. Dannie broke the biggest smile and scooped the bag off the table.

"Have I ever told you how much of a blessing you are?" Therese snorted at that. Dannie called the waiter over and Therese placed her order without too much thought, her brain had too much going on for her stomach to properly function.

"So how has everything been going at your big break?"

"Everything has been going great"

"Nothing interesting to tell me huh?" Dannie quirked an eyebrow at Therese questioningly and leant back into the booth.

"Not yet" Therese contemplated telling him about Carol but she found it difficult to even talk about her, she felt like a dastardly secret Therese held at the pit of her stomach but she was a secret Therese had no problem keeping. Dannie said nothing, clearly not believing Therese.

"How has your research been?" Therese accepted her coffee from the waiter and tried to change the subject. Thankfully Dannie never pried even if it bugged him that Therese wouldn't confide in him.

"I would much rather talk about something else. Like this movie that is coming out," Therese smiled at the glow her friend had suddenly gotten.

"Are you still doing your writing thing?" Therese teased at a one-time interest Dannie had developed out of the blue.

"Oh ha ha." Dannie squinted at Therese and she stuck her tongue out at him.

Before she could even put her coffee down, Dannie had ran miles with the ideas presented in the trailer, the mythos displayed, the setting, the cinematography and he ran the whole nine yards talking about how great this movie is going to be solely judging from a seven-minute trailer. Therese listened on, never once interrupting, she couldn't understand a word Dannie was saying due to lack of reference but it didn't matter, it was nice just listening to a trail of thought without having to respond to it.

"How can you love this so much?? You don't even know anything about it." Therese joked but her own words suddenly felt too heavy for her.

"Maybe that is the reason I love it. I can't wait to get to know it because I know it will be good for me." Therese wondered if Dannie had caught the change in her mood, maybe he knew what was going on better than Therese did.

"But surely you can't blindly trust it. What if the movie is bad? Then you have wasted so much time and thought on it. What if it's not what you always thought it would be and then you are left with nothing but the love?" Therese gulped, she knew this was taking it too far but she needed to address this someway.

"I have to trust it. People cannot control what they love and what they don't. Falling in love is a theory; it has to be tested to be proven. You have to make a hypothesis and if the variables match your hypothesis then you have yourself a theory but if it doesn't, you have to change your hypothesis. So what you expect will happen doesn't always happen." Therese remained silent for a while, just blankly staring at Dannie.

"Gee, someone is feeling poetic today." Therese quipped and broke the tension between them. Dannie burst out laughing and Therese joined in.

Lunch had carried on smoothly then, Therese was always grateful for Dannie's company and his energy, it complimented hers and he always seemed to put her racing mind at ease. They said their goodbyes after extending their lunch by a few hours; it had gotten cold again with the sky dimming and giving way to the evening. Therese eagerly awaited practice tonight, her heart beating faster at the mere thought of it, she would see Carol again, like she had every other night before but tonight felt special, it was as if something had been set in the stars and tonight it would happen. Therese's phone buzzed in her bag and she scrabbled to get it.

Skipping practice today

It was Carol yet Therese's heart dropped. Just before the disappointment could seep into her bones her phone lit up again.

Going for a walk instead. Join me?

Then there was the rush of excitement again and it translated to Therese's racing fingers as she typed out her message.

Of course, meet you in front of the studio?

I'll be waiting X

And then Therese was running to the studio, against the cold wind that hurt her teeth that were revealed by her smile. She saw Carol standing in her maroon hoodie and her jeans with her hands bundled in the pouch of the hoodie, her hair was still pulled back and she looked effortlessly gorgeous. Carol took no notice of Therese till she was standing right beside her.

"Hi," Therese spoke a quietly, trying to hide her racing nerves and her panting from running.

"Hello, ready to go?"

"Yeah"

Carol gestured for Therese to start walking ahead of her but they fell in step quickly. They walked in silence for long, even after they had walked into a nearby park, Carol was looking either the sky or to the cracks in the pavement, Therese knew she was preoccupied. She wanted to ask her what was wrong, maybe even comfort her but her words were caught in her throat and she said nothing. She attempted to cough out the debris that blocked her questions.

"Are you alright? Do you need water?" Therese was surprised and just gawked at Carol's concern.

"Take it out of my bag. It's in the front zip" Carol extended the bag to her and Therese gingerly accepted. She stopped as she rummaged through the bag, Carol had not waited for her and went ahead. Therese found the bottle under Carol's extra t-shirt but she found something peculiar too. A pair of pointe shoes too small to even fit her let alone fit Carol; they looked brand new, barely used yet they had been prepared the same way Carol prepared hers.

"Did you find it?" Carol shouted over her shoulder.

"Are these yours?" Therese brought the pointe shoes out and held them in front of her. Carol's face dropped and she started to walk back towards Therese. She took the shoes from Therese and dropped them in her bag before swing it over her shoulder. Carol walked on without a word, leaving Therese to stand completely still just where she was. Therese knew she had said something wrong yet she wanted to follow Carol; she wanted to test her theory. Therese caught up with Carol with some effort but she still walked silently, she wanted Carol to trust her but that would happen on Carol's accord, not hers. They walked on for what felt like a mile then Carol went to sit down by the lakeside. She took off her shoes and rolled up her jeans to dip her feet into the lake, Therese watched her shiver as her feet touched the water but Carol soon settled and leant back on her arms looking up at the moon.

Therese joined her without a word, rolling up her pants and dipping her feet into the water. She mirrored Carol's position; their hands a mere few inches away for each other.

"They are my daughter's. The shoes. She's only starting but she says she wants to be like mommy so I got her a pair anyway." Carol spoke suddenly, almost whispered it out. She had a calm yet tired expression on her face. Therese looked at the water and then back at Carol, how both their calm contrasted with the storm billowing inside Therese.

"I am sure she's exactly like you." She imagined Carol with a small blonde girl and while it was hard for her to imagine Carol doing something other than dancing, being a mother seemed to fit her.

"You'd be surprised how much she takes after her father." Carol looked down now at her lap, smile wavering on her face.

"Does she look more like your husband or you?" Therese wanted to keep the conversation going but she felt as though she was saying all the wrong words.

"Ex-husband" Carol turned to her. Now Therese saw how truly tired she was, maybe her nights were as sleepless as Therese's, maybe it is true that the role of Odette and Odile takes a toll on the dancer beyond just physical strain.

"I'm sorry"

"Don't be"

"And you have someone of your own, Therese?" Carol met Therese's eyes and Therese's throat closed up again.

"I had a boyfriend. He cheated on me a few months ago and I've been on my own since" Therese spoke matter of factly.

"Oh, I'm so-"

"No. No need for it. He was bored with me, rightly so. I didn't love him. He said I was cold fish and honestly I would rather have drowned in this lake than sleep with him." Therese laughed and Carol finally broke a smile with her. Therese looked at the water again, feeling triumphant. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Carol watching her.

"What?"

"Nothing. Tell me more about yourself" Carol smiled brighter, wider and Therese started to melt. The moonlight had this ability to make anything look alluring and it only accentuated Carol's natural magnetism, Therese couldn't stop herself from staring at shadow-hidden lips that asked about her pasts. She came apart in front of Carol, every part of her history escaped her lips, how her father would paint her, how her mother would make her cookies and then how her mother left her, how her family grew and disappeared at the same time, how cold her nights in the boarding school were, how she preferred being an orphan than acknowledging her mother's existence and soon she found herself in crying silent tears. Carol had listened patiently, only placing her hand over Therese's as she cried. Therese wiped her tears with the back of her hand as she finished telling Carol about her father's death.

"Is that why you design? Because of your father?" Carol questioned further.

"No. I don't think so. I design to give life to stories. To give it a backdrop, to place the action in the air, the drama," Therese sniffed and looked over to Carol who looked at her with the utmost attention and concern.

"I do it to give the romance to the story." Therese finally continued whilst looking Carol straight in the eyes.

"The romance! Is there room for that in your life Therese?" Carol smirked at her. Therese stayed quiet for a while; Carol was patient enough to wait for the answer, just as she had been patient while listening to her sordid past. She examined Carol, her grey eyes now smiling, gone was the fatigue they carried. Her face bathed in moonlight, sharp shadows cast over it, her smile as wide as the horizon in front of her and as bright as the moon above her, Therese thought no more and decided.

"Yes. There is room for that in my life." She smiled warmly at Carol. Carol smiled back and took her hand. They wandered the park for a while after that before parting ways and saying their goodnights.

And just like that, Therese was back at her apartment and in front of her drawing board. Her set was coming to life on paper, the thoughts of Carol still buzzing in her head but tonight she embraced them, the feel of her by her side, the sight of her feet in the water, they say a ballerina's feet weren't the prettiest things but they were sacred, with such vigorous use over multiple years they became ruined and broken, yet they were still sacred and holy and gorgeous under moonlight. Therese drew ruins of a chapel, sacred and divine but broken and decrepit, she drew vines that slithered through the cracks and bore tiny white flowers and finally she drew the lake for the background. The lake where the prince and the swan fell in love and the lake where Therese decided she loved Carol. Therese let her head fall back, she bit her lip and closed her eyes, how cliché she thought. She thought about how if Dannie were there he would say clichés are only cliché because they are true and she laughed at herself for agreeing to it.

She fell to her bed smiling and sleep came easy with a blissful dreamlessness.

Chapter Text

A quick inhale, a swift push, eyes jolting open, sweat cooling immediately under the breeze that blew through the open window. A ragged attempt to gain composure then the blind search for her phone. 6:00 am. It was the third time in the past week that Therese had her sleep interrupted by that same damn nightmare. The ominous presence of a dark shadow following her through fogged domains and the eerie hooting of an owl slowly rising into a cacophony of a million birds fluttering and covering every inch of Therese’s body with their mud-caked feathers and gnashing claws. She had been staying up a lot ever since this job started, either researching the ballet, slaving over sets or practising with Carol, neither of which she disliked but it disturbed her sleep cycle heavily nonetheless which in turn gave her nightmares, it was always this way since she was a little girl in a boarding school, praying vehemently that the monster under her bed would not drag her down into hell with itself in the middle of the night. Therese got out of her bed to get a glass of water, she ran a glass under the tap and moved to the window to look out over the street and New York, which was barely awakening but not quite buzzing with the usual energy it had. Therese saw sparks of it here and there, a distant light turning on in a far off apartment, the rumble of a few cars going by, the distant crying of an infant, the whistling of the wind that went past Therese and into her apartment, chilling it even further. The skies were grey and the distant sun was dull, the streets lacked the vigour they usually had even if it was an early hour, for the city that never spelt, New York sure seemed tired today. She walked back to bed and fell to it with a thud, her mind going over everything she needed to do today. Preparations for Act 3 were starting, with the Act 1 set complete and Act 2 set in its final stages, Therese didn’t have to worry too much about supervising their completion. The Act 3 set was to be the grand ballroom of the prince’s palace, an intricate set and the backdrop of betrayal, it was a grand task and Therese felt relieved that the senior designer was going to design it and not her. This gave Therese a much-needed weekend off, she sighed at the idea of being able to sleep in and not having any responsibilities beyond finding something to actually do on the weekend. Her relationship with her colleagues was strictly professional, no one spoke beyond the immediate requirement to and she didn’t bother either. The lighting department seemed to be a fan of her, affectionately calling her pixie but only when they were joking, when it was time to work they had respected her like they would respect each other. She would talk to some of the dancers when she was in the studio; they had seemed nice but not nice enough to spend more than half an hour of conversation with. Maybe Dannie and Phil would be up for something; she would have to check with them. When she fell asleep in the flow of her thoughts she didn’t know, all she knew was that it was 8:45 now and she was horribly late.

9:25. Therese was twenty-five minutes late, unacceptable by even the smaller plays she had done before this. She looked dishevelled enough for her senior to take some pity on her but that didn’t mean she was going to be let off easily. Now the most boring job of paint sampling was her first and only priority, leaving her with the mind-numbing task of making the pallets and going over to the paint studio every day to ask whether the paints were mixed or not and if they hadn't been mixed, Therese would get told off as if it was her job to mix them. Therese had wanted to scream, yell at the top of her lungs that she had slaved away on both the sets prior to this and even though everyone approved of it no one seemed to appreciate her for it, how was she going to carry on if she wasn't even going to get given the most minuscule amount of approval, but she somehow calmed herself down, took a swig of her coffee and sat down in the reception to wait to be called upon again. Fifteen minutes later, she was called on.

“Therese, I need you to run by these plans while I do some fittings.”

“Absolutely”

“And be careful with them please.”

Therese could feel the contempt in her rise from her toes to her head, burning a trail behind it as it churned like magma behind her eyes. One day, she is late one day and suddenly she gets treated like a child? Had she not delivered on everything she had done before? Had she not been absolutely careful with everything before? Had she-

“You called.” Had the door been flung open by anyone else, Therese would have actually committed a serious felony.

“AH! Carolyn my dear! Just in time.”

“Please, Jamie. It's just Carol”

“But of course”

Therese gave Carol a once over. In her regular tight white leggings and black leotard, Therese had seen her in this so many times already yet she still blushed at how it defined every curve of her body, how it dipped with every muscle and made a defined valley, currently Carol had just started her day but Therese had seen how it clung to her every movement when she practiced and glistened with sweat. Therese’s frustration seemed to have been doused in an instant and now her face burned for an entirely different reason.

“Carol. I do believe you haven't met Ms Belivet here.” Carol now looked over to Therese and smiled a very secret smile, which Therese quickly decided she loved.

“I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.” Therese’s cheeks burned even more as Carol came to her, eyes always so intense, her walk ever so tantalising. Of course, to everyone’s knowledge they had never met, never would until this seemingly fated moment but they both knew each other better than Therese knew her senior or Carol knew anyone in the studio, Therese would wager at least.

“Carol Aird.” Therese stared at Carol’s extended hand and the smug smirk she had on her face. She quickly gathered her senses and cleared her throat.

“Therese Belivet.”

Meeting her for the second time had been just as magical as it was for the first time. Their handshake went on for a second too long but no one but Therese seemed to have noticed, she quickly took a seat by the dressing table before her knees buckled and she passed out. Her focus should be on these plans she needed to review, not how the inch tape sat on the curve of Carol’s waist, how it sat on those hips, how it sat on her breasts or her alabaster shoulders, Therese couldn’t stop stealing glances despite her efforts. She turned in her chair so she sat with her back to Carol, low whispers of their conversation came to her ear but she shooed them away instantly in an effort to concentrate. Therese went over the plans carefully, combed through them with precision, wrote down her inputs and stuck post-its wherever required. She drummed her pencil against as a long train of thought ran circles in her head.

“Would you stop that?” Therese ceased at once; she turned around sheepishly and saw that it was only her and Carol in the room now.

“Sorry, I got lost..” But Carol only smiled at her, her eyes slightly crinkling at the edges Therese found it positively adorable.

“How do I look?” Carol held the sheer, fluffy black material around her and dramatically threw her head back. Gorgeous as always, Therese had wanted to say.

“You look ridiculous.” Therese scoffed which made Carol squint at her in mock aggression.

“You don’t think I look every bit the seductress as the devilishly handsome Odile?” Carol eyes suddenly darkened and her lips were in a perpetual smirk. Therese watched her take two confident strides to stand directly in front of her. Carol leant forward to match Therese’s eye level.

“Well don’t you Therese?” Therese’s entire body felt like a cigarette that Carol was slowly draining with every look she was giving Therese. Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down Therese repeated like a mantra so that she could maintain eye contact with Carol and not stare directly at how her top supplely provided a view of her cleavage.

“I-I- “ Therese stumbled and fell over her words and the door handle started to shake. Carol gave the breezy laugh, obviously unaware of what she had done to the poor girl and stood back where she was originally standing.

Therese’s body felt like it had lost all feeling and after a minute of collecting herself, she quickly excused herself to go to the bathroom. She splashed her face with cold water once, twice, thrice, till her fingers ran numb and her cheeks stung against the cold. She buried her face in napkins and took a deep breath. Practice tonight was going to be a nightmare if Therese couldn’t get a hold of herself right now. She spent the entire day trying to train herself to not react to Carol at all, a quest in which she inevitably failed as her heart sped up at the thought of sharing lunch with Carol again. She hadn’t shared lunch with her today and maybe it was better for her head not to.

Skipping practice again. Sorry

that’s ok. is everything alrighy
*alright?

Yes. Everything is fine. My daughter is coming over ☺

Now Therese knew why Carol was so happy in the morning. Therese smiled to herself in spite of already missing Carol.

that’s wonderful! have a good weekend carol! <3

Therese’s finger hovered over the send button and her heart thumped in her chest. She closed her eyes, breathed in a bit of courage and pressed send. Now came the agonising wait of Carol’s reply. 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, Therese was obsessively checking her phone. Had she crossed a line? Did she repulse Carol now? Did she go too far? Every question hammered against Therese’s head, pulling on her eyes, threatening to cause tears to form. Her phone buzzed, or she at least thought it did and she leapt for it, immediately disheartened that it was an unknown number. She swiped right in her haste and cursed herself as the message opened.

Phone ran out of battery. Sorry again!

Thank you, Therese. You have a good one too. Love – C

Therese’s heart ran a million miles and just before it exhausted itself and stopped, she violently shook her head back and forth, her cheeks aching from how wide she was smiling. Therese thought of how could she have a good weekend without Carol, without thinking about how she could run into her at the studio, without looking forward to their practices. A quick melancholy washed over her, a haunting reminder of her loneliness. She didn’t have her work to get lost into, no plans to look forward to and nobody to call. Therese decided to go to bed early, feeling defeated, and pulled up her laptop to get lost in anything decent she could find. Maybe a documentary or a tv show, whatever kept her mind occupied and away from her sombre thoughts. She read the message from Carol once more and it took some of the loneliness away.

Chapter Text

It was around midday; Therese had stepped out of the apartment to finish up on last minute duties in the production house and had run some errands. Phil had asked her to drop by and potentially pick up a script for a play, though Therese had no intentions of picking up another project right after the ballet, she decided to meet up with him anyway.

“Thanks, Phil, I’ll let you know as soon as I can.”

“You workin this weekend too?” Phil asked. Therese was of half the mind to lie and say yes. She had no plans and didn’t particularly feel like making any.

“It’s getting busier. Apparently the most difficult part of ballet is coming up so I have to be on my toes.” It wasn’t a complete lie, the ballet was moving into its most difficult act but she wasn’t the one it was going to be hard on.

“Well, don’t loose yourself in it like the others do” Phil’s eyes widened, he raised his shoulders and ducked his head to dramatise the saying but Therese knew him better, she rolled her eyes and carried on.

This job was doing a number on Therese, she wouldn’t admit it to anyone but it was. The nightmares were getting more and more vivid day by day and she couldn’t catch up on her lost sleep for the life of her. Her movement was sluggish, eyes nearly always burning and limbs twitching involuntarily from exhaustion. Saturday was a blessing in that respect; she had managed a good night’s rest, despite waking up abruptly, she had gone back to sleep almost immediately. She had finished her workload for the coming week, or at least a part of it, leaving her at full liberty to relax. She would go home and go back to bed, maybe catch a movie but most probably sleep her weekend away. Though she was excited for her plans to do nothing, seeing people out doing something or the other as she walked back to her apartment felt as if it mocked her. It was almost patronising to see everyone smile and walk with purpose and direction but a purpose beyond work, beyond existing. Her eyes scanned the crowd seating in an outdoor café, how people leant in close to talk to each other, how some looked anxiously to the quickly greying skies, how all of them had a purpose of living and not just passing the time. She would wile away her hours till going back to work gave her a sense of direction, she could go out with her friends or with her colleagues but she was in no mood to be around people. All she wanted was the comfort and warmth of home; her apartment wasn’t warm or comfortable but she never knew what to call home besides that so she would have to compromise.

Therese pulled out her phone out as it shook; she answered the call a bit too quickly to see who had been calling.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Therese?” She pulled her phone in front of her in disbelief, to check whether it was who she was hoping it was.

“Carol? Hey!” Therese’s face quickly blossomed into a smile.

“Hi. Are you doing something right now?” Her heart started to pound in her chest.

“No. Not currently,”

“I see. Well, I’m having lunch at Scotty’s. On Madison.” Therese thought she heard nervousness in Carol’s voice, maybe because it was the first time they had been on the phone together. Therese reproached herself to consider this a monumental occasion when it was just a silly little phone call but she was still smiling ear to ear.

“Oh.”

“I just wanted to know whether you were in the area. If you’d like to have lunch I mean.”

“OH!”

“Would you?”

“Alright. I’ll be there in fifteen.”

Therese felt giddy, like a kid whose going to see their favourite movie, like a dancer acing her pirouettes, like a person going home after months away, even the sudden wave of anxious questions couldn’t deter her smile. Should she go and change before meeting Carol? Should she grab a gift for her? Should she shout in the streets about how happy she was? Therese quickly decided that she didn’t want to delay this meeting for another minute and took the first cab to the restaurant.

Therese arrived at the front doors in no more than twelve minutes. She walked into the establishment, warm breeze hitting her face and tousling her hair and searched around for Carol. It was a quiet joint, everyone seemed to be too busy in their own selves to notice anything around them, everyone was dressed in what Therese considered fancy clothing but a twenty dollar shirt was fancy to her so she had no ground to judge. She walked two steps into the place and heard a familiar laugh softly lift up from one of the corners, her head followed the sound and it led her straight to a booth in the back of the restaurant with one particular blonde in a simple grey dress sitting at it. Slowly, as she walked towards the table, another person came into her view. Brunette, about Carol’s age, hair cut in a short bob, wearing a checked blazer and smoking a cigarette, Therese couldn’t help but feel disheartened that she wasn’t going to be alone with Carol. The woman seemed to have Carol enraptured in conversation but didn’t fail to notice Therese coming over. The woman jerked her head towards Therese and Carol instantly turned around, finally seeing Therese and giving a bright and welcoming smile, the fire in Therese’s stomach roared and she forgot about the woman sitting across from Carol that looked Therese up and down.

“Hi”

“Hello” Therese stood by the booth where Carol sat and she couldn’t seem to move, Carol’s eyes always seemed to slow time down for her.

“Please. Sit.” Carol patted the space next to her and moved into the booth. Therese held her breath and obliged, making sure she wasn’t sitting too close nor was she sitting too far.

“Therese, this is Abby,”

“Childhood best friend and designated pain in the ass of Carol’s.” Therese watched Abby extend her hand across the table; she took the hand after wiping her sweaty palms on her jeans.

“I’m Therese. Assistant stage designer on Swan Lake.” Her voice suddenly didn’t feel like her own. She thought Abby wouldn’t believe her, wouldn’t believe that someone like her could work in the industry let alone on a big scale production like Swan Lake but Abby just laughed, whether it was at her or in general Therese wouldn’t know.

“Of course, you are. Carol tells me you are quite the pianist. I didn’t know we would be having such talented company.” Abby laughed again and Therese laughed with her.

Carol must’ve called the waiter over since a menu hovered in front of Therese’s eyes and she sheepishly accepted. Therese tried to look over her options and choose quickly but nothing on the menu made sense to her and her mind was more focused on the conversation Abby and Carol seemed to have immediately moved back to.

“How’s Rindy?”

“Oh she’s great, you won’t believe how much she’s grown in three months,” Carol’s voice lit up and Therese couldn’t help but feel warm with her.

“Where is the snowball anyway?”

“At a friend’s place. It’s birthday party or something and I couldn’t say no to her.”

“What about Harge? Has he said anything?” Abby spoke plainly, almost expecting bad news.

“He’ll push for the full custody petition if anything goes wrong this time.”

“He fails to notice that he is the only thing that can go wrong in Rindy’s life. Remind him of the Renegades will you? That disaster alone can get you full custody over Rindy.” Carol laughed loudly, head thrown back and eyes squeezed shut in delight.

Therese couldn’t help but feel a sudden pang of sadness. She wanted to make Carol laugh like that, she wanted Carol to confide in her, she wanted to take her hand and comfort her but who was she to Carol? No one but her colleague she imagined. Abby was an old friend and with the way they talked, Therese could imagine they were incredibly close. Abby held herself with none of the elegance Carol had seemed to be carved out of, her aura was loud and her voice was pricked Therese’s ears. Therese had decided she liked Abby the first time Carol had mentioned her after practice, recounting the tales of their college years but now she was having a hard time sticking to the decision. Carol and Abby continued their conversation freely throughout the lunch, occasionally prompting Therese to butt in but otherwise Therese was merely a spectator, a kid sitting at the adult’s table. She couldn’t help but feel intruded on, like Abby was not welcome but as the lunch went on, the roles seem to change in her mind. The initial high of Carol inviting her to lunch wore off and she suddenly started to question why she was even here? Why had Carol called her? What were they? Colleagues? No, because they didn’t work in the same department. Strangers? No, because otherwise Therese wouldn’t have known that Carol’s favourite concert was back in 94. Friends? No, because there was something about how Carol looked at her that made Therese believe there was something more, that there was a reason behind the jolt that was sent coursing through her body every time her foot accidently brushed Carol’s under the table. Caught in her thoughts as always, Therese didn’t realise she was left alone with Abby at their table.

“So Therese. Do you like Carol?” Therese was shocked at how blunt Abby was, she wasn’t expecting this question in the smug tone that Abby gave her, not immediately at least.

“Of course, I do.” What’s not to like, Therese had wanted to add but held back.

“Of course, you do.” Abby scoffed and took a drag from a fresh cigarette.

“You do know her reputation right?”

Ballerina extraordinaire, feared by some, revered by many but respected by all. That’s all Therese cared for. She, of course, caught the rumours all around the studio, about how the role had driven her mad, how there was something more than her divorce that kept her from coming back before now, how Carol was into something deeper than she let on. She had heard it all and heard it again but none of the girls had known the Carol she saw. They hadn’t seen the hardworking woman that slaved all through the night to perfect her craft, and did so without a single complaint, they didn’t know the woman who texted Therese every time after practice asking whether she got home safe or not, they hadn’t known Carol who was a mother, they hadn't known Carol who was a person, they hadn't known Carol like Therese had known Carol. And that was all Therese cared for but before she could answer, Abby’s phone went off and she excused herself to take it. Therese composed herself, sighing deeply to savour the much-needed moment of silence she got but it was short lived as Carol returned back to her seat.

“Sorry ladies but I have to scram. Duty calls” Abby winked at the both of them.

Abby gathered her stuff, pressed two quick kisses to Carol’s cheeks and went off on her way, not that Therese cared. She didn’t care whether Abby was an entomologist or a furniture storeowner, she wanted to but she could no longer bring herself to. Carol and Therese finished the rest of the lunch in silence and just as Carol paid for the food, it started to pour with rain.

“Damn it. What now?” They looked out onto the storming roads from under the restaurant’s awning.

“My place isn’t far from here. We could go there.” Therese offered, unable to look Carol in the eyes and control her heartbeat.

After a moment of deafening silence, Carol said “okay” and Therese almost jumped with joy. They ran from one shelter to another, laughing and slowly making their way through the pouring rain to her apartment. Therese pulled Carol into the doorway of a shop, unaware of how close they stood till she turned to look at Carol and suddenly found her face mere inches away from Carol’s profile which looked out to the rain and didn’t notice the space they were sharing. The smell of Carol’s perfume, mingling with the scent of rain and the chill of the wind pumped Therese’s lungs with a new type of energy, she found herself breathing heavy for reasons other than the run they just did.

They made it to her apartment door, soaking wet despite their efforts and Therese immediately ran for some towels and to turn on the heating, leaving Carol to wander around the apartment and take it in. Therese came back to Carol looking at the set she hung in her living room and talking on the phone with someone.

“Is that so darling? Well, you will have to show mommy when you get back” she covered the phone and lowered to her shoulder “It’s Rindy” she whispered to Therese and Therese smiled to herself, passing the towel to Carol and walking into her kitchen to make some hot chocolate for the both of them.

She went on her tried and tested method without paying much mind, only giving attention to the proportions of the semi-sweet chocolate she melted in at last. She walked out of the kitchen with a bottle of amaretto in one hand and a bottle of butterscotch schnapps in the other and held it up to Carol, who pointed to the schnapps without much thought while still being on the phone with her daughter. Soon, Therese walked out into the living room with two cups of rich smelling hot chocolate, feeling incredibly proud of herself.

“Okay sweetie, I’ll pick you up at 7 now.” Therese handed Carol her cup and had this sudden urge to lean in and press a kiss to her cheek but before she could react, Carol wrapped her arm around Therese’s waist and squeezed.

“Okay buh bye now. Love you.” And as quickly as it happened, Carol’s arm returned to her side and left Therese feeling incredibly warm and incredibly cold at the same time.

“Sorry about that. Rindy likes to talk.”

“It’s nothing. There is a robe on the couch if you want to put that on.” Carol raised an eyebrow at Therese when Therese wouldn’t meet her eyes as she spoke.

“I’m sorry. It's all I can offer since none of my clothes would fit you. Not properly at least.” It was a fact, Carol was a whole head taller than Therese, her shirts would fit like a crop top and her pyjamas would be capris on Carol.

“Okay. Be back in a minute.” Then Carol disappeared into Therese’s room with the robe in hand and came back a few minutes later looking just as divine as before, in Therese's robe and how Therese hoped nothing underneath. The sight of Carol in her clothing made Therese’s stomach flip and flutter, she couldn’t stop smiling if she tried.

They spent the evening together, talking and enjoying music. Carol had gushed over Therese’s hot chocolate and made her promise to bring a thermos on a practice night. It was a wondrous evening, a magical one where Therese had forgotten she would wake up to an empty apartment, cleaning up the aftermaths of their fun and reliving the memories of a rainy evening spent with the one person she wanted to spend all her hours with. With Carol, Therese could forget all her woes in an instant and she only hoped that she did the same for Carol.

Chapter Text

Chaos. Meaning: complete disorder and dysfunction. The wind picked up and cut between a sea of strangers, some looking equally haggard while others found something to smile about. Looking around and scanning the now quickly merging faces required too much energy, even if done involuntarily, so Therese cast her eyes down to her feet. One foot after the other on a cracked grey pavement, the tint of blue cast over everything like a film due to the early hour, her shoulder clashed with a couple of strangers but today she didn't dare to look up or say a word. Had she done anything beyond just walk her body would exhaust itself and collapse completely. Therese continued to watch her feet, the sound of leather against cement resonating with every step she took and soon enough nothing existed but her feet, the pavement and the sound of her steps. Those brown shoes suddenly weren't attached to her and she was spectating, not walking but merely watching. Merely watching like she did when owls crooned and chattered while burying their wretched claws in her skin and a billion lines of red ran across her arms before she woke up to a cold apartment. She was waiting to wake up with a jolt but it didn't come instead the muscles in her face twitched and she looked up. Therese had overshot the studio by a few steps. She walked back and counted. She overshot by five steps.

There was an eerie silence in the production house, nothing uncharacteristic for the hour but certainly unsettling. It was quiet enough that Therese could hear her own bag shuffle against her clothes as she swung it to her desk. She unzipped her bag to search the same organised files, paint samples, cardboard and the like for her pencil case. She breathed in heavily and closed her eyes, there was utter silence in that moment, no movement, no breathing, simple silence and Therese wondered if she had fallen asleep, then she exhaled audibly and the silence was broken. Scratching of pencils, clambering of footsteps, orders being shouted, the constant staccato of metal against wood, crumpling of paper, sighs of frustration, slapping of skin against skin and the distant and dull throb of her headache, all of this chased the silence away for the rest of the work day.

While the house bustled with an unorganised volcanic energy, the studio was stifling. Everything ran orderly, ballerinas working in a whole, not a toe out of place. Heels of oxford shoes and stilettoes clanked against tile; their sound pronounced even over the distant orchestra practising their harmonies. There was subtle chaos in this order, the trembling hands wrapped tightly around coffees, shaking eyes scanning papers that were messily splayed on desks, the protest in the ballerinas bodies showing clear in their movements despite their best efforts to control it; Therese could even feel the nervousness of the violinists that dedicated themselves to complex pieces of classical music. Her current battle was to ignore all this and get her job done. To go to Jamie and get assembly of the second set approved, she walked in quick bursts, hair bouncing with every stride she took, with her arms tightly hugging her folder close to her chest. The hallways of marble and graphite had become familiar to her but it was still difficult to tell them apart, had she failed to notice little nuances here and there, she would miss her destination completely. Jamie preferred to work away from the music, it disturbed her hands she said, so Therese followed the silence deeper into the building. She walked past the second dance room, with no music but distinct voices going over terms she heard often but didn't quite understand, and caught the woman she saw everywhere in the corner of her eye. Naturally she stopped and looked on, in hopes that Carol would sense that she was there and look her way. She watched Carol throw her head back and laugh at something her dance partner said; the laugh was tight, not genuine but still just as gorgeous as always. Therese watched Carol's partner take her by the waist and guide her, tip her forward, only to bring her back into his arms again. The dance moved incredibly slowly, in an almost intimate way, Carol's face seemed so calm and full of reprimand at the same time as she went along her well-practised routine of the White Swan Pas de Deux. A million emotions surged through Therese, most prominently a fiery jealousy in the knit of her brow and a deep wealth of desire in the tightening of her stomach. Therese both admired and loathed the man who played Siegfried, she wanted so desperately to be in his place, and take Carol by the waist and lift her through the air, to hold her close and breathe in her scent or to even portray a love to her and have it be reciprocated even if it was make belief but strong was the man who portrayed such emotion convincingly and not have it be reality. Therese fell for Carol the first time she saw her, did poor Siegfried even stand a chance?

"Ms Belivet! What a surprise!" Therese startled out of her daze and followed the accented voice to the man who was coming up to her.

"Mr Bianchi! How are you?"

"Please. Call me Tony." Tony took Therese's hand and placed a kiss on the back of it.

"How is it going, Tony?" Therese tried to overcompensate her nerves by trying not to sound much too eager.

"Hectic. As you will notice but nothing that can't be handled." They both shared a knowing laugh.

"Say, Ms Belivet. There is a party happening soon. The production is moving into its final stages and we need to celebrate that. Would you care to join us?" Tony looked eagerly towards Therese. She couldn't refuse even if she wanted to.

"I –I'd love to," Therese hoped she managed a weak smile to accompany that lie.

"Perfect. I'll tell Ivor to send you the details. See you then!" Tony pressed a kiss to the back of Therese's hand once again and made his way towards whatever he was originally doing.

Therese had barely processed what had just taken place, she quickly decided it didn't matter and started on her way to actually do her job.

Jamie's office was as cluttered as always. Fabric stretched across wooden tables, mannequins pinned with the costumes still coming together on them, cardboard and foam were strewn across the room in discarded bits and pieces. Jamie was circling a mannequin with a grey-black outfit on it, it had feathery material latching on to its sides and coming together in a trail behind the coat of it which looked like a tail. She was talking animated about the headpiece that sat bleakly on the head of the mannequin. It was the same grey-black colour and decorated with the same feathery material, it seemed to begin at the hairline and its widow's peak was elongated like a beak. All of these were the humble beginnings of Von Rothbart's costume, which was supposed to be in the form of an owl. Therese quickly complimented her senior on the costumes and got to work. Her throat started to close up here and there and the twitching in her muscles got more prominent. She pinched herself in the arm as if to punish herself for letting her nightmares affect her job. Jamie seemed to not notice Therese's discomfort and Therese was more than grateful for it, she would rather just get her job over with so she could collapse in bed as soon as possible.

Approvals were made, further instructions were given and a car almost hit Therese as she mulled over said instructions and didn't pay attention to the road as she crossed. The horn blared in Therese's ears and echoed in her head until long after she was away from the road; it agitated her headache further and strengthened her desire for a warm cup of coffee. Her arm muscles twitched and she ceased her wrist to stop herself from overtly convulsing. Absentmindedly she sat back down on her desk and scoured it for her pencil. A good two minutes passed till she realised a tall paper cup stood on her desk with a – C written on it with a bold marker. Therese smiled, warmth spreading even to her numb toes. She gleefully snatched the cup and took a slow sip, savouring the taste and the slow rush of caffeine waking her senses up piece by piece. It had cream and vanilla in it, just as she liked. She sipped at her coffee and pulled out her phone.

thanks for the coffee. how did you know my order?

Lucky guess.

am I really that predictable?

No. Im just that good.

you are ridiculous carol :/

Maybe I am.

Therese was grinning ear to ear, she was sure people were staring at her and wondering if she had finally cracked but she couldn't find it in herself to care.

Soon enough it got darker and a lot colder than usual. Therese had bounded for the studio the second everyone had left and now sat next to Carol on the wooden floor of an empty dance room. The mirror in front of her giving her a full panorama of the steps in the back for the dancers to sit on and observe, of the dark piano on her left and of them, sitting right in the middle of the floor while Therese lacquered Carol's shoes and Carol stretched her feet. Ballerinas always prepared their own shoes, obviously, for they knew best how their feet worked and had learnt to tailor them specifically to their own needs, but Carol said she felt particularly lazy today and told Therese to sit beside her and help her with her shoes. She gave Therese the simple and the tedious jobs, of lacquering the inside of the shoes, sewing the elastic across it, breaking the shank or putting rosin on the tip and Therese did them making sure to stick by every instruction Carol gave. She looked over to Carol, whose face was scrunched in a grimace as she forced her toes down and up and pushed into the arch of her feet with her palm. She twisted her foot once again and hissed out loud. Therese couldn't stop the question as her heart leapt at the sound.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah I'm fine. Your toes don't feel too good after a long day of practice" Carol sighed and worked her foot again, face twisting in pain once more.

"Stop." Therese's hand covered Carol's and Carol stopped moving.

"Let me do it" Therese's voice trailed off but she held Carol's wide stare. A minute of silence passed between them where neither moved a muscle or even dared to breathe.

"Okay."

Then Carol removed her hands and moved her feet to lie in Therese's lap. Therese's fingers took to Carol's toes first, softly taking them one by one and rolling, applying pressure to the joints the most, she worked them over twice before moving to the arch of her feet and kneading her thumbs into the bottom of them. Carol's heavy sighs took over the room and Therese felt a deep longing pool within her. Her face grew hot and she suppressed the urge to make Carol feel even better than this. Her thumbs kneaded Carol's big toe and Therese heard a moan escape Carol's lips. Her eyes shot up and her hands stopped, she swore she could see Carol blushing. They stared at each other for a long while till Carol cleared her throat and broke the silence. They entangled from each other quickly, not daring to look at each other. Therese quietly sat on the piano bench and started to play without once looking up from the keys. Her fingers ran the notes of the Black Swan Pas de Six but she couldn't rip her mind away from the thoughts ran through it. The soft music of the piano hit her ears but fell flat because Therese couldn't hear anything but the music that was Carol's moan. It was innocent and involuntary, Therese felt disgusting thinking about the way she was. She uncrossed her legs and crossed them again, squeezing her thighs tighter together this time. By the time she reached the coda, she looked up. Carol had told Therese to slow the tempo of the coda so she could get warmed up to the triple fouettes. Carol held the most intense look in her eyes, her eyes were dark and her sweat covered brow furrowed, her face was almost twisted in a snarl. Therese began slowly and Carol followed, standing on the very tip of her left leg, lifting her right in front of her then slowly moving it back in a swirl and spinning on her left leg along with it and then repeating the process over and over and over. Therese's fingers soon started to play the coda faster and Carol moved just as fast, her legs moving in this mesmerising rotation as if on top of a music box that has magically been wound to move forever. At her speed, her leg moved like a whip and her hands floated through the air. The coda was almost at its end and Carol captivated Therese, she watched her like she always did but this time, there was an element of pride she felt, a pride that almost overtook the reverence she felt. The last note left the piano and finally Carol stopped and immediately collapsed to the floor, unable to hold herself up for even a second longer.

"Carol!" Therese immediately ran to her side, kneeling on the floor next to her.

"Darling, I'm fine. Just exhausted," Carol didn't look up and kept her head cast down and between her elbows.

"You were fantastic." Therese sat down beside Carol once again. Carol straightened up and looked at Therese, panting and trying to collect herself. Both of them were back in that minute of silence again where neither dared to move.

"Thank you, Therese," Carol smiled and Therese found herself smiling too. Suddenly they were swept in a fit of giggles and ended up clutching at their stomach and wiping their tears over nothing.

"Okay. Let's go home." Carol spoke as she looked at the ceiling and wiped at her eyes with the back of her index finger.

The butterflies in Therese's stomach would not leave even if she were to cut her stomach out. The car ride was spent in comfortable silence and Carol insisted on walking Therese home tonight. They walked so close; Therese could feel the backs of their hands brush against each other every now and then and each time they did, it lit Therese's entire being on fire.

"So. Someone got invited to Tony's party." Carol bumped shoulders with Therese playfully.

"So I did. I don't think I'll go, though." Therese felt bashful and continued to stare at her feet and Carol hummed in response.

"A-Ar-Are you going??" Therese asked suddenly, Carol laughed and Therese looked up at her.

"I don't think it would be a great promotional event if the lead wasn't there, sweetheart" Carol joked.

"I'll come then." Therese spoke sheepishly. Carol looked at her blankly in a way that she almost looked through her.

"Do you miss Richard?" Therese was stunned by the sudden question. Why was Carol talking about Richard when they'd just been laughing and enjoying themselves? Why talk about something as dull as Richard when she could talk of anything else? it almost infuriated her.

"No. I haven't thought about him in months."

They found themselves in front of Therese's apartment building. Therese stood close enough to Carol so she could see the freckles that littered her face. Despite the cold, Therese felt incredibly warm, their bodies seemed to be radiating off of each other's heat and Therese found herself leaning closer and closer to Carol. Their breaths mingled and eyes were trained on each other's lips, Therese was being pulled in like the waves of the ocean were by the full moon. Therese closed her eyes but before they could close the distance between them, Carol's phone blared in her pocket and she jumped to get it. Therese couldn't pay attention to whose call it was but Therese knew that she might do something violent because of it, like slam her apartment door on her fingers or bash her skull into the lamp post.

"Sorry. I have to get home." Carol frowned. Therese felt like apologising too but she didn't know what to apologise for.

"Goodnight Carol." Therese felt defeated as she started to walk to her building door but suddenly felt a slight tug on her hand.

As if out of nowhere, Carol pressed her lips hard against the corner of Therese's lips. Therese's mouth fell open then Carol pulled back and laughed airily at her dumbfounded expression.

"Sleep well Therese." Carol winked at her and then immediately set on her way back to her car.

Therese watched Carol go and disappear in the shadows. She brushed the tips of her fingers to the corner of her mouth and finally her breath came back to her. For the first time in the whole day, her mind had gone silent and everything had gone still. Peace. Meaning: freedom from disturbance; tranquillity.

Chapter Text

“I thought I’d find you here.”

Therese turned away from her model and nearly bit through the pencil between her teeth in surprise. A tinge of pain ran through her gums and her eyes settled on an unusual but not unwelcome sight.

“Carol. What are you-“ Therese looked around in confusion to let her gesture complete the sentence for her.

“I had some free time on my hands. So I decided to see what I would be working with” Therese watched Carol take in the garage like room which had elaborate wood structures covering it’s floor, being sanded and glued, painted and varnished by people working wholly with their hands and souls.

“I can show you. If you’d like.” Therese took Carol’s nod as a yes and decided to lead on.

The thick chemical smell of varnish and paint thinner clogged the air; light coming from high windows seemed to form a fog of gold over everyone, everyone was working but they were moving as though they were in a painting; full of motion but frozen in time. There was a light chatter in the room, which echoed off the high dome roof to crescendo into a loud cacophony. Therese shouted a bit over the noise, constantly worrying about not talking loud enough or shouting at Carol. They weaved through the room and Therese tried her hardest to ignore the looks people were giving the both of them, turning around and watching them walk by as if they were circus giants. She explained in minimal detail as to what everyone was doing since Carol didn’t seem too interested in it at all, her eyes kept wandering up to the windows, watching suspended particles float in the light as if she longed to get out of here as soon as possible. Therese picked up her pace and lead Carol to her sets last, something she was so immensely proud of that she couldn’t stop herself from smiling before introducing them to Carol. Therese went over the sets in quiet and hurried excitement and Carol observed from a distance. The space between them felt as hollow and empty as Carol’s blank stare did. Her expression gave nothing away and Therese wanted to hide the model of the set she was working on far away but Carol’s eyes caught it first.

“Is this Act 4?” Carol pointed to the set. Therese nodded and went to bring it over.

“It’s not done yet.” There was an unreadable expression on Carol’s face as she traced the cardboard structure with the tips of her fingers. Therese waited for a response.

“They haven’t made a mistake about you have they?”

Therese wasn’t sure what Carol had meant but before she could answer, the door to the studio opened and with a boisterous entrance, the lighting department entered, ushering in the smell of coffee and doughnuts with them. It broke the delicate stillness of the room and everyone seemed to roar together and burst into life.

“Hey, Pixie!! Come have a piece!!”

Therese blushed brightly at the nickname, knowing that Carol had just heard it and quickly waved them off. She turned to Carol, still too far away for her to properly feel and believe that she was here.

“Don’t let me keep you. I should really be heading off.” Therese nodded and ducked her head, her cheeks colouring even deeper.

“I’ll see you tonight, won’t I, Pixie?” Carol shot Therese a grin and a wink as she whisked away to the door.

Suddenly and all at once, Therese’s breath returned to her and she felt like she would knock out. The paint fumes addled her brain and she didn’t need beautiful blondes knocking the wind out of her on top of that, so she decided to calm her delirious head with coffee and sweet glazed doughnuts.

Work moved monotonously but the room buzzed with energy about the party happening tonight. It was a promotional event, nothing special but she wagered everyone was excited to get out of this stuffy workspace and into bourgeois rooms, in nicer clothing and expensive champagne in their hands. Therese would be lying if she said she didn’t mirror her colleagues’ excitement but her reasons were surely different, hopefully different. Though the excitement was there, there was also the ever-present pressure and sometimes nauseating anxiety of social gathering, especially one of this calibre. She had already decided to take off during lunch to hopefully find a dress fancy enough to wear to the party.

Therese scanned racks upon racks of clothing but found nothing that seemed to catch her eye for long enough so she continued on scanning never ending shops, passing familiar-looking strangers and holding on to a hope of finding the perfect dress in a display of a store. She found herself thinking about what colour would suit her best, green maybe? Would it go with her eyes or maybe blue? Would Carol like her in blue? Her thoughts quickly derailed into wondering about Carol’s favourite colour. She had always seen Carol’s nails painted red; her soft lips in beautiful carmine, her phone case in solid ruby, how she adored the red orchids Therese had given her, Therese had seemingly found the answer to her question. Perhaps an hour later, Therese left the mall quite satisfied. She hadn’t been able to find a red dress so she settled with some red heels and a black maxi dress that exposed all of her back. The dress cut asymmetrically across her legs and curved perfectly over her hips. She imagined how she would carry herself in it, how the heels would click against marble flooring and how eyes might follow her but she didn’t care for them. She never could care for anyone else’s gaze but a certain pair of grey eyes that sparked wars in her chest.

Night fell sooner than expected and Therese rushed out of her door. Everyone had gathered in a giant hall with a bar at one end and catering at the other. There was a balcony that opened with double door to the middle of the room and it was slightly elevated than the rest of the marble flooring. People mingled and chattered, in polite conversations or in loud cackles of laughter. There were groups within groups of people who worked together or who were just meeting each other for the first time. Just as she arrived, Harkevy had swiftly taken Therese for some introductions. She always thought that Harkevy held a soft spot for her and protectively loomed over her. She appreciated it but it felt like a dent in her pride, in her need to be independent, she had been alone most her life and managed the worst without a mother, what could Harkevy protect her from now? Regardless she went along with him, only sharing a few words here and there, hoping to not seem as uninterested as she felt. A glass clinked in the air and all eyes whipped to the balcony. Her eyes followed the crowd and she felt the air slowly exit her lungs just as she took in the beauty of what stood on the balcony or who stood on the balcony. There, besides Tony, was Carol. Carol in a long white dress, which revealed her shoulders, with her hair twisted up beautifully to one side. She wore gold jewellery that seemed to reflect her hair and burn in her grey eyes like amber. Everything had faded to a shrill note of a tuning fork for Therese as her eyes ran all along Carol’s figure over and over.

“Here is to our Swan Queen and may love persist,” When Tony even started the address, Therese couldn’t remember but she raised her glass in unison with everyone.

The crowd roared with applause and then their eyes finally met. Therese watched Carol’s eyes widen in shock as if she didn’t expect her to come after all. Carol burst into the most beautiful smile; one that Therese only hoped she had returned because she had long lost function of her own body. The crowd quickly merged around her and she got lost in it, swept up and away for Carol. Another hour of useless chatter went by but this time a lot slower. Carol was the only person she truly knew in the party and Therese searched for her in the crowds but didn't find her anywhere, she felt her spirit quickly fade away. There had been good conversations and interesting people she had met by now but she would trade it all away in a heartbeat for another glass of champagne and her pyjamas. The crowd started to become suffocating, too demanding, there was just too much to soak in and at the same time nothing at all to care about, she felt like she was balanced on the tip of a cliff that didn’t show just how far it dropped. So she quickly wove through the crowds hoping to escape out of the tiny door beyond the catering. She managed to slip past unnoticed and went out through the door, into the open cold. She exhaled loudly and walked forward to sit down on the steps that lead up to the door but saw a woman with sitting on the steps already, quietly smoking. Panic struck Therese and she almost ran back into the party before she recognised the back of this woman’s head. Her nerves relaxed and she slowly made her way to sit down beside the woman.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” Carol didn’t even turn to look at her but smiled all the time.

“Never during productions. Just a nasty nervous tick I used to have control over."

“This party got you all jaded?” Carol turned to her and Therese offered a soft smile. Carol gave her an unreadable expression and contemplated the question.

“No. Not the party.” Carol admitted and turned away quickly.

“Did you get something to eat?” Carol asked.

“A little. At least the food is good.” A half lie, Therese had little of the hors d'oeuvres here and there but almost spat them out. An awkward minute of silence passed before Carol turned to her with a bitter expression on her face.

“The food was awful,” Therese burst out laughing and soon Carol joined her.

Their laughter faded away, into the large alleyway that they sat in which led directly onto the street in front of the hall and the parking. In silence, Carol continued smoking and looking at a particular spot on the wall in front of them. Therese stole glances of her and felt her breath even out slowly.

“I think I’m going to ditch this place,” Therese watched Carol crush her cigarette on the step below her.

“Right now?”

“Yes.” Therese tried to stop herself from feeling utterly crushed.

“And I think you should come with me.” Carol got up and smoothed off her dress, which was slightly dirty from the dusty steps, they were sitting on.

Therese looked up and smiled almost wildly at Carol. She got up herself and took a step towards Carol.

“I think I should too.” They shared a silence until Carol started to make her way down the alley.

“Come on slowpoke, we haven’t got all night!” Carol threw a quick smirk over her shoulder and waved to Therese.

Therese flew.

They made their way to Carol’s car, holding on to their dresses and giggling like teenagers sneaking away from home. Even though both of them had skipped their second glass of champagne, the cold air from the rolled down windows and the closeness to each other was more sobering. The car roared onto the highway and Therese leant against the window to take in the buildings sprinting by them.

“Where are we going?” Therese turned to Carol and saw her lips curl.

“Anywhere.”

If it were anyone else, Therese would’ve been wary of that answer but with Carol, it was enough. She would go anywhere with her, she would discover the depths of anywhere with her, Therese couldn’t stop the small smile that was the result of all the warmth in her body. Carol leant over and turned on the radio. They flicked through stations and sang along to whatever both of them knew the lyrics too, enjoying the music and the silliness of singing together.

“Hey! I was listening to that.” Therese furrowed her brows and changed the station back.

“Well, I don’t want to listen to it anymore.” Carol switched the station without looking at the radio. Therese let out a gasp and went to change it again.

“Stop that!” Carol tutted impatiently and reached out for Therese’s wrist but instead got her hand.

Therese felt it, the jolt of energy going off within her from that pseudo handhold. Carol’s hand lingered a bit longer before she let go. If Therese had been bolder, she would’ve brought Carol’s hand back and laced their fingers together. That’s what she wanted to do anyway but instead, she put her hand in her lap and tried to quell her shaking fingers.

They drove around New York, under the ever-changing neon signs, basking in the city and talking till Carol decided that they should get dinner at some restaurant. The restaurant had been fancy enough so they didn’t seem out of place in their dresses but Therese felt somehow she shouldn’t be allowed in. A girl who could sustain take away for a span of three nights should not be allowed in a place where even the bread had names that were difficult to pronounce. Carol placed her orderly carelessly, not thinking to even look at the menu twice and Therese followed in tow. They enjoyed their late supper as soft harp played across the room.

“Did you like the set? For Act 4?” Therese asked as they were walking back to Carol’s car.

“Can we not talk about work right now?” Carol was smiling.

“Sorry. I just wanted to know if it-“

“If it conveyed the idiocy of Act 4?” Carol snapped. Therese knew it wasn’t at her but it still stung. It stung that Carol thought the Act stupid.

“Idiocy?” Therese dared to question.

“Don’t you think it’s stupid to lose yourself to love? When all Odette wanted out of it was for her curse to be broken.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“Don’t you believe everything you are told?” Carol said coldly. Therese was lost, she didn’t know what Carol was talking about.

“I wonder what you believe about me.” It was a whisper, something let out like an afterthought.

“Whatever you tell me.” Therese saw Carol’s expression change into one of shock.

“Whatever I tell you.” Carol laughed.

“So you would deny the truth for me?” Therese stopped in front of Carol unexpectedly and turned, she had stopped too close to in front and it left little space between their bodies.

“I would.” Therese whispered, looking Carol straight in the eyes.

“You’re a child,” Carol said, like a reproach.

“You’re being cynical.”

Carol all of a sudden grabbed Therese’s wrist and pulled her into the alley next to them. Then their positions were reversed as Carol locked Therese in between herself and the brick wall. She kept her arms on the wall beside Therese’s waist but didn’t connect their bodies. Therese still held her stare, grey eyes darkened with desire and shifting from her eyes to her mouth. They were close but not close enough, lips breathing in each other’s air.

“Aren’t you denying the truth right now?” Therese cupped Carol’s face in both her hands and searched Carol's eyes for an answer.

Therese’s eyes fluttered shut as Carol leant in and kissed her softly. There were hands exploring her back and Therese was losing herself to the feel of slender fingers running along her spine and digging into her waist, pulling them closer together. She removed her own hands from Carol’s face and brought them to Carol’s stomach, feeling taut muscles move through a white dress. They wandered up to Carol’s ribs and her fingers tips traced the groves of each rib with reverence. Their lips moved slowly together, savouring every minute spent in each other's closeness. Carol suddenly pulled back, ripping her mouth from Therese’s, leaving her panting and gasping for air. Carol removed one of Therese’s hands from her ribs and laced their fingers together. She brought their interwoven hands to her lips and kissed each one of Therese’s knuckles softly, Therese’s eyes fluttered shut and the longing inside her grew deeper.

They practically sprinted to Carol’s car and drove to the nearest hotel Carol could find. Both of them were pure volcanic energy the whole ride over to the hotel. As Carol got their check-in done for the overnight stay, Therese could barely stop her stare from roaming the entire backside of Carol. How her hair was still immaculate, how you could see her back muscles from the slightly sheer material of the dress, how her legs that seemed to go on for miles and hold her up so elegantly. How did they do that when that kiss had turned Therese into jelly. The warmth between Therese’s legs just grew from remembering how those muscles moved under the ballerina’s leotard.

“Go take a shower. I’ll go in after you.” Carol said just as they entered their room.

Therese wanted to protest, to push her on to the back of the door and crush their lips together but Carol was already pushing her to the bathroom before she knew it. Therese came out quickly, the cold water calming her nerves a little. She walked into the room and saw that Carol was sitting with two glasses of champagne by the vanity. She watched Carol saunter over to her and extend a glass to her.

“Enjoy this, I’ll be out in a minute.” Carol kissed Therese quickly and ran to the bathroom. All the heat that Therese had lost came back to her and she worked on cooling it off with a chilled gulp of wine.

She had no clothes except her dress so she sat up on the bed against the headboard in the spare robe that she took out of the hotel cupboard and finished her champagne. Carol came out no sooner, in an identical robe, which had hung a bit loose on Therese, but Carol seemed to fill it out perfectly. Carol joined Therese on the bed and took her face into her hands.

“Can I kiss you?” Carol whispered.

“You don’t have to ask.” Therese couldn’t help but giggle.

“I do.” Carol leant forward and lightly brushed their lips together.

“Would you let me kiss you?” Carol whispered again and Therese could only nod in response.

Their lips finally joined together. Therese let her own hands travel to Carol’s hair, lowering herself into the mattress and pulling Carol down with her. Their kiss deepened as lips parted and tongues met, both of them let out a moan at the contact. Carol moved her hand to the tie of Therese’s robe and pulled back enough to speak against Therese’s lips.

“Would you let me touch you?”

“Yes,” Therese said breathlessly.

Carol’s lips moved down to Therese’s neck, then to her shoulders and then to her chest, kissing and biting all the way down as she nudged Therese’s robe open with her chin. She pulled back to take off her own robe and Therese slid her robe out from under her. Therese watched the way Carol took her in, she saw eyes trailing behind the hands that caressed her small breasts, her ribs, her stomach, the soft patch of hair between her legs and then all the way down to her ankles. Carol was smiling, that much Therese knew. Carol brought her legs up and straddled Therese. Her mouth returned to Therese’s chest and she placed soft kisses all over one while kneading the other with her hand. Therese moaned as Carol took one of her nipples in her mouth, her tongue swirled and her teeth nibbled and Therese could feel her brain overloading. Therese’s hands held onto Carol’s back, feeling every muscle move and breathe as Carol worshipped Therese’s skin, burning kisses into it with her teeth and her tongue, making sure to leave the marks of her worship. Therese was being burnt to ashes, drained and exhaled like a cigarette, and just as Carol reached her thighs she felt her stop. She looked down to see Carol holding both of her thighs next to each side of her face and stroking the top of them, a sight enough to just about send Therese over the edge.

“Would you let me taste you?” Carol asked and took in the tender flesh of Therese’s inner thigh between her teeth and sucked. Therese couldn’t reply her voice was just moans and gasps. Carol moved closer to Therese’s folds nuzzled her nose into them.

“Would you let me love you?” Carol spoke against Therese’s swollen clit.

“Carol, Please. Yes.” Therese could only whimper, she squeezed her eyes shut and bit the back of her hand.

Without any delay, Therese immediately felt Carol’s tongue against her, stroking up and down and running circles around her clit. It took away the last shred of Therese’s sanity, turning her into a moaning, shaking, and quivering wreck that repeated Carol’s name as if she was the only one who could save her from her delirium. Therese felt nails dig into her thighs and Carol’s tongue enter her, licking her walls and soaking her juices. Suddenly it was all too much and she saw a spark of something heavenly behind her eyelids, just as her body arched off the bed. She felt herself become human in that moment, reaching the moment of pure ecstasy and being brought down from it gently by lips kissing up her body. When Carol reached her lips, she tasted herself on them and she could feel Carol smiling against her. Therese opened her eyes finally and was greeted by grey ones that looked so vast and open, like space and its expanding mysteries. They were serene, the only moment of true peace Therese had known in her whole life. Only now did she realise that in the quiet of this peace could she hear the universe tell its secrets to her. She could hear it talk about what it means to be in love, what the future held and what happiness meant. And it all had one answer. It all meant the same thing.

Carol.

Chapter Text

The machinations of her nightmares plucked at her skin, shadows contorted into feathery demons and sunk their deadly claws into the tender flesh of her chest as if reaching for her heart. The pain ebbed thought her being, searing, volcanic, and ripped through the foundation of her sanity, contorting her realities into an accursed prism of swans and owls screeching in pain as if they barked orders at her. Therese jerked up and back left, then away and back up, her body convulsed on its own accord, waiting to be jolted awake with the right jolt in the right direction. However, tonight reality seemed further away than it ever had before and Therese had started to wonder if she'd ever wake up. Within her mind, the ground started to shake and crumble away, light beamed out of its cracks, ready to engulf Therese at a moments notice. She would run, she would move but right then the light seemed to call to her. In a voice of angels, it called her name over and over and washed over her, mending her skin, silencing the swans and the owls, and driving the feathery demons back into oblivion. She came to slowly, hearing her name being called by a voice all too familiar but just as angelic.

"Therese! Therese!" Her eyes adjusted on the figure hovering above her and washed away all the doubt in her about still being trapped in her mind.

"What's wrong?" Therese lifted her arm with surprising strength as if forgetting how much it weighed and brought her fingers up to lightly trace Carol's cheekbones, her jaw and then finally her lips. Therese felt a tear collect at the corner of her eye that threatened to fall down the side of her face. Carol caught it with her index finger and kissed it away.

"Did you have a nightmare?" Therese's breath caught at the softly whispered question, she could only nod in response.

Seeing Carol smile so softly, feeling Carol's fingers brushing the hair off her forehead, studying the halo of Carol's hair glowing from the light above and falling off her face like waterfalls of gold made peace wash over her quicker than it ever had before. When nightmares ended and her eyes opened to an empty dark apartment, peace was the most forlorn thing to her. Carol kissed Therese's forehead, Therese's eyes closed and she let out a sigh. Lights were turned off again; Therese felt her heart jump, not ready to face the dark just yet but arms closed around her, pulling her closer to the steady beat of a stronger heart.
Every beat soothed her and made her excited at the same time and she was quickly dozing in and out of sleep. She clung to Carol and let herself venture back to her nightmares.

"Sleep well, my angel. I'll protect you." It was a whisper, one Therese was sure she wasn't supposed to hear. Therese felt fearless.

Morning came gradually and quietly, something that was unheard of in the bustle of New York where the street chatter brought along the sun and not the other way around. The bed felt empty next to Therese but it didn't feel cold. Therese promptly opened her eyes and propped her head up on her arm.

"Where are we?"

"Upper east side." Carol didn't look away from the window. She was wearing her typical attire, leggings, comfortable moccasins, and under her sweatshirt, Therese was sure there was her leotard.

"Do you have to go to the studio?"

"They called in the morning. Couldn't fall asleep so I decided to get ready."

"Do you have to go?" Therese asked coyly, pleading for Carol to come back to bed.

Therese watched Carol walk from the window to sit on the edge of the bed, she wanted to match the wicked grin on Carol's face but could only look hopeful.

"I would love to join you," Carol's hand went under the sheets and skimmed up Therese's thigh, making Therese's breath hitch.

"But I really do have to go." Carol sighed heavily and gave Therese a peck on her lips. Therese had to hold herself back from chasing after Carol's lips as they pulled away.

Therese fell back into the pillow, not wanting to leave its warmth. She saw her clothing, haphazardly discarded all over the hotel floor. A newly familiar feeling blossomed in the pit of her stomach and she almost broke out into a laughing fit. She wasn't laughing at anyone or anything but laughing to release the pure joy in her. She watched Carol sip on what she could smell was coffee and immediately wanted to spring from the sheets and embrace her. She sat up on the bed and hastily adjusted the sheets around herself, remembering she was naked underneath.

"Carol. I don't have any clothes, I mean besides that dress-"

"And you look fantastic in it." Therese ducked her head and tried to process the compliment before continuing.

"Th-Thank you but I don't have anything else to- to wear" The embarrassment of walking out with the same dress on as last night was something she didn't want to experience this morning.

"Abby brought my duffle bag in this morning. I have an extra pair of sweats you can borrow, so you don't have to walk around naked." Carol pointed to her bag on the armchair beside the window.

Carol's smug expression was begging to be challenged, bringing a new boldness in Therese. She let the sheets drop and walked out of bed, to the chair and swung the bag over her bare shoulder. She passed Carol, whose expression was half way to shell-shocked and startlingly amused.

"You would like that wouldn't you?" With that, Therese disappeared into the bathroom.

Therese came out of the bathroom quickly, bundled in clothes that were too long for her, bunching at the ankles and the sleeves. They were warm but warmer was the smell that lingered on them. Carol handed Therese a sandwich and a fresh cup of coffee. They both sat opposite each other, in relative silence finishing their sandwiches, humming with an appreciation for the food here and there, discussing the day's plans. It all seemed terribly banal to Therese. Was it always like this after a night as special as they had just shared? She recalled the terrible awkwardness that fell over her and Richard every time they had sex, though it wasn't often nor was it special. There was never magic there like Therese had felt last night, there was no feeling of utter satisfaction, not for Therese at least and there was never the feeling of safety after it. The safety in soft kisses and light touches, all the gentle peace that came with synchronised breaths. There wasn't even a desire in her, the desire that was in a deep slumber until she met Carol. The desire to give completely and be taken entirely, to be consumed. It was near constant now that Carol was with her, now that her own lips knew the softness of Carol's lips, now that she bore red patches scattered across her body in a simple constellation of desire.

"We should get going." Carol shoved her phone in her pocket and got up. She squeezed Therese's shoulder lightly, grazing her nails along Therese's collar then up her neck before walking away.

And just like that, like a million stars, a fire lit within Therese and she grabbed Carol's wrist, turning her around. Therese met Carol's gaze, storming grey eyes that looked so calm only a second ago were now fierce and animalistic. Therese felt disarmed and lost all her confidence to actually connect their lips. Therese thought Carol was going to pull away but she didn't feel any resistance so they stood staring at each other, waiting for something to disturb the moment. Therese cast her eyes away first, she felt like ash. Burnt to a pile under Carol's gaze and due to her own embarrassment. A gentle palm on her cheek led her towards her coral lips into a slow, lingering kiss that took her breath away. Their bodies crashed together, Therese fumbling to get a good hold on Carol's body with all the extra fabric around her wrists. Nails scraped against her scalp and Therese shrieked, squeezing Carol's butt in return. A loud, impatient knock on the door willed them to part.

"Behave." Carol nearly growled. She pressed her lips one last time to Therese's.

They left the hotel as quickly as they could. It would be 30-minute car ride to lower Manhattan, which would eventually be turned into a 45 minute one with all the traffic, but nonetheless, Carol seemed content, lightly humming the low music playing through the car speakers.

"Have you ever done that before?" Therese studied Carol's profile.

"Sorry?"

"I mean have you been with a woman before?"

"What questions you ask, I swear" Carol chuckled. Therese remained quiet, hoping Carol would recognise she was serious.

"Yeah. I have been with a woman before." Carol sighed.

"Is that why you took a break?" It's what everyone thought.

"What kind of-" Carol sighed again. The traffic wasn't moving and the song had switched to something Therese had never heard.

"I was going through a divorce, something I had signed for, contrary to popular belief. Abby had no part in that. It happened after the file got accepted."

Abby. For the most part, Therese knew but some part of her had desperately denied it. Therese thought of the lunch, and how Abby looked at her, smiled at her. Therese thought Abby probably didn't like her. She thought of today morning, how Carol kissed her before leaving the hotel. She decided she wouldn't think of Abby anymore so she said nothing about it.

"I went away because the divorce became too much. I was in three productions and in love with whisky. So I ran away, leaving the city and my life here behind." Carol slapped the steering wheel three times.

"Do you regret it?" Therese asked. Therese felt it was a question for all questions.

"No." Carol stared at Therese. The traffic started to move and Carol quickly turned her eyes to the road.

Roads silently passed along, coloured with the gradients of autumn. Therese could practically smell the wet pavement, hear the crunch of dried leaves and see the chill in the wind that flew by. It was all the same, seen time and time again. On the back of motorcycles, taxis, in the night, at dusk, and all these trees and pillars of concrete had been the same. Only she felt different. Terribly different. Terribly human. For the first time, she saw these trees as a human.

"What are you thinking?"

"That I've never felt like this before."

"Meaning?" Carol inquired with slight mirth in her tone.

"I've never felt this. Like I've just learned how to breathe and now I can't get enough of it." The car stopped. Past Carol's hair, Therese could see the front door of her apartment building.

"Would you join me for lunch? I'll be at the studio but we don't have to eat there." Carol asked quickly.

"I'll see you there," She walked out and turned around just as she reached her door. Carol blew Therese a kiss and started her car.

Therese watched the car disappear on the road, missing Carol's company instantly. She would have to survive only a few hours in her apartment before lunch. She squeezed Carol's sweatshirt tighter around herself and breathed in, calmed by its smell.

For the next few hours, Therese began her first lines of her third set, the final act, where Odette and Siegfried reconcile and find freedom and peace in death. Her goal was ambitious, she knew it the minute the thought came to her, but it would be grand and dramatic, perfect for Act 4. The lakeside again, glittering in silver moonlight but Therese wanted to raise the stage floor itself and have it make the cliff top Odette jumps off of. The architects would object, Jamie would object, Harkevy would object but Therese wanted to bring it to life. Someway. She checked her messages quickly, seeing a text from Phil from earlier in the morning, which she had missed. Her mind ran back to early morning and the smell from the sweatshirt she wore wafted to her. She quickly typed a message to Carol before checking on Phil.

is it too early for schnapps?

Never. Come over quick.

see u soon ;)

Therese ran to her kitchen to check if she had ingredients for her hot chocolate recipe Carol had so immensely enjoyed. She opened Phil's text half mindedly while checking cabinets and her fridge for everything she needed.

been hearin a lot about u n carol. something u wanna tell me?

Just be careful Therese. Controversy isn't good for a career.

She stopped in her tracks. Did people know? Already? She had heard whispers and murmurs about Carol all the time but the both of them? Her head started to throb as if forewarning something. She put her phone away and threw it to the back of her mind. It was bliss to her, being with Carol and she would deny the truth for it.

Therese stepped into the studio 10 minutes into lunch hour. The girls had already gone, the receptionist looking even more disgruntled with her work, music didn't emanate in the perfectly practised melody but in screeching and plucking. Yet like every other day, the studio was the quietest place she would enter. It's as if stillness never left its marble walls, either out of respect for the art it holstered or due to its innate eerie disposition. She made her way to the dressing rooms, knowing Carol would be waiting for her there. Her excited steps dulled at the sound of an argument. It clashed with the every sound in the studio and Therese wondered if she was the only one who heard it. She got closer to the door, which was ajar. She saw a man, no one she had seen here before. His jaw set strong, face red and swollen and brows creased in anger. His eyes were blue and they would've looked kind if the situation were anything otherwise. She got close enough to make out the conversation but stayed her distance.

"You really have it out for yourself. You know that?!"

"Listen Harge. My life will go where I want it to go." It was Carol's voice that responded, cold and angry, like Therese had never heard it before.

"I can see that from the stunt you pulled at the party. Did you think the lead disappearing at a promotional event would go unseen?" Harge was mocking her and it made Therese's skin crawl. The mention of the event, them leaving the party, everything being read back to both of them as an accusation made her stomach turned in on itself.

"I had had enough of my share of boring parties in my ten years of marriage with you."

"Don't you start with me Carol, You know damn well –"

"What I know is that you are going to leave. I won't fight with you at my workplace." Carol raised her voice, stunning both Harge and Therese. Harge scoffed, adjusted his collar and turned to leave.

Therese panicked. She held her breath and stiffened her arms by her side. She made herself as small as possible, a vain effort to hide in an open corridor. In her mind, her identity would be revealed the minute Harge saw her. So she waited, anticipating whatever would happen but Harge held his head down, out of the humiliation of being heard or at a loss of an argument, Therese couldn't tell. He briskly walked past Therese, not acknowledging her presence. But she held her breath still, for as long as she could, fearing everything that would come with her next breath. Her lungs started to burn and she gave in. She walked forward, peering into Carol's room. Carol was still facing the doorway, leaning against the sill of her mirror. Their eyes caught each other easily; Therese saw Carol's eyes flash with white, hot anger. It willed her feet back, fleeing from a predator was surely easier than fighting it. Grey eyes softened into a coldness that was familiar to them.

"Carol." Therese tried.

"Not now Therese."

"But-" She tried again.

"No. Just leave me be. I'll be fine." With that, Carol turned away from her.

Carol's shoulders were stiff but tired, back heavy and it looked as if her arms held the weight of her entire body. Therese wanted to go to her, wrap her arms around Carol but knew she couldn't, so she left. The hot chocolate was probably cold by now anyway, Therese told herself, swallowing her tears. She wouldn't go back to her apartment just yet. Wandering the streets and the parks, where everyone was a stranger felt better than an empty apartment. Her feet would lead her wherever, to familiar sights, empty parks, everything she has seen. Her mind felt surprisingly empty, devoid of a consistent chain of thought. The sun had started to dip beyond the horizon, making lakes of orange water. Therese stood mindlessly skipping stones, rocks fell and made ripples, the small plops of stone bouncing off water giving a singular task to her racing mind. She bent to pick up another stone just as her phone rang. She answered as she swung her other arm back.

Plop. Plop. Another stone.

"Hello?"

Plop. Plop. Plop. Another stone.

"I was horrible to you. Earlier. Will you forgive me?"

Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Stop

"Alright." Therese breathed.

Another stone. Plop. Plop.

"Then, would you come to the studio right now? If you want to get dinner that is?"

Plop. Plop. Plop

"Alright."

Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop

"You need to tell me." The stone got far out of sight and Therese couldn't hear its pats on the water anymore.

"I will darling." Therese's heart jumped.

"You missed your hot chocolate." Carol laughed and Therese felt the tension in her go away.

"I'm sorry. I'll drink it cold, bring it along."

It was her second time entering the ballet theatre on her day off, what it meant to her or for her she didn't know. All she knew was that she met a mysterious woman here; in a small dancing studio beyond the dress rooms down the right corridor of main reception and that mysterious woman changed her life. She would make this place her temple if she were allowed it. The room Carol and Her always used was now filled with loud complex music played by a speaker, which would usually be soft piano music played by her fingers. She entered the place and coyly dangled the thermos in front of her. The track on the player changed just as Carol laughed and Therese could now recognise it's every note. Act 3, Pas de Deux, where the black swan dances ever so tantalisingly with the prince, teasing and playful, seducing him into love. Carol takes her role, smiling wickedly at Therese and immediately on her toes. She flowed with the music, her hands dancing almost as well as her feet, sweeping in a pseudo wave and beckoning Therese to come to her. She could barely walk straight let alone dance so she stood as Carol danced circles around her, just as playfully as she would with her partner but Therese's eyes never left Carol's. She spun around on the spot to keep track of this gorgeous woman floating around her like the faeries in one of Therese's old story books. She moved as freely as water when she played the part of Odile but now, Therese saw actual joy behind those eyes and when they connected with her green ones, she saw actual burning desire. Before the song switched over, Carol grabbed Therese's wrists and before she knew it, Therese was being led by Carol in her own choreography. It wasn't a real dance, all Therese was doing was walking along wherever Carol led and supporting her in her dips and leans but it was a spectacle to see Carol's imagination brewing and running with her. Therese got a taste of what it was like to be Carol's partner in the art and once again had to applaud the man. How do you not fall in love with this vision? Therese had been lost. In her thoughts, her feet failed to follow and Therese felt her balance give out, clinging to Carol for dear life. They both tumbled and fell on each other in a heap. Therese was on top of Carol, she felt Carol push her ribs so she would pull back so she balanced herself on her elbows.

"Therese are you okay? Are you hurt?" Carol's face a look of pure concern. Therese could've been concussed and still wouldn't know it, so in awe was she of the woman below her.

"I love you Carol" Carol simply took Therese's face in her hands and pulled her down to barely touch their lips together. Shivers ran through both of their bodies.

"Darling, Don't you know I love you?" Therese kissed her again, and again, and again.

They lay on the cool wooden dance floor hotly kissing for long, the floor around them forming dew due to the heat of their bodies. Carol pulled back and Therese wordlessly got up, helping Carol up afterwards. In a silent agreement, Therese followed Carol to her car. The apartment door barely closed before they lost themselves in each other, in an uncontrollable explosion that would surely leave Therese in ashes. They were in a dance orchestrated by pure desire, a growing crescendo of moans and shrieks leading their every move to bring absolute pleasure to each other. Time then felt arbitrary to Therese, what existed then was of another existence, something locked away in the cosmos. As they lay in each other's arms long after, Therese softly trailed patterns on Carol's chest as they talked about pasts, futures, having just shared dinner covered in just bed sheets, stealing off of each other's plates like young lovers. Therese felt her consciousness swim but just before she let her dreams take her, she pushed up and pressed one last kiss to Carol's lips.

"Sleep well my angel"

Chapter Text

The set for Act 4 was an inspired design. Line by line it came together on a canvas sheet, Therese had put her mind and soul into it. She had asked around, confirming with Jamie that it would work, asking the architects what would be the best course of design. She had finished the set in one sitting, trading in her sleep hours to complete the sketch and the model. She knew it would be an arduous task to get this made, she had went into the production house exhausted out of her mind the next day. Her senses felt slightly frayed and no amount of coffee seemed to be able to fix that. She hadn’t got the green light the first time she pitched it. Therese felt crushed, she had made quick excuses of illness and ran back home and locked herself in for the day, swallowing her tears. Carol had called later that night and Therese had sobbed her frustrations into her phone. Carol had patiently listened, offering advice where she could.

“Compromise is important Therese. Think of it from their perspective. Look at your model in a new light. Maybe you do need to make some changes.”

Therese thought that even Carol didn’t like it but after a good sulk she had finally managed to approach it with a new eye and gone back into the studio, with clearer senses and a new model. She got into a terrible argument; Jamie didn’t even make eye contact with her for the next two days. But she had got the green light nonetheless and worked till her entire body rebelled against her to make it all come to fruition, she almost doubled over in a pile of wood shaving while supervising building. But even as her senses felt muddled like that of the undead, Therese had never felt more alive. Her hours were filled with the work she had always wanted to do, she felt like she was working towards a true goal, motivated out of proving everyone who doubted her wrong. Act 4 had to be dramatic, tragic and most importantly it had to be impactful. Therese wouldn’t let her set be anything less.

It was early evening, the sky was just falling asleep and Therese found herself with a little downtime. The thought that always seemed to come to her, that seemed to float up and mystify her thoughts even at her busiest, spun around in pirouettes in her mind. Therese needed to see her. They hadn’t met much; late night practices had dwindled into just sneaking off at lunchtime to see each other. It was brief but it felt like the only thing grounding Therese to reality. She decided to set off to the studio, Carol would be having stage practices now, and she would go stand in the back of the hall so she would not raise any eyes towards her. She only wanted Carol to see her and hopefully catch her attention or maybe even, by some design, kiss her.

The studio was brightly lit. The stage was dull but it was lively, everyone was dancing beautifully; ballet, as an art form, itself is so brilliantly delicate in nature. Looking at the stage, the lights were revealed, wires hanging low, music being played out of a speaker instead of the live orchestra that vehemently practised in the hall adjacent. Here nothing was polished except the dancers moves and yet sometimes even they messed up. It was ballet stripped of its magnificence yet it was so enchantingly beautiful. Everyone was in their leotards, sweating and tired yet still somehow putting on a picture performance even without an audience to direct it to. Carol was in the front, standing tall because the stage was hers, everyone clung on her movement, the better she was the better everyone else would be. A step and then two times did her feet cross. Suddenly the music cut off, pointe shoes and flats came to stand still. Some ballerinas rolled their eyes, some bent over and clutched their knees, caught their breath and some looked around anxiously, sweat covering each of their foreheads and their breaths shallow. It was weird to see that these group of people were dancing in perfect harmony just a second ago, for now all of them stood in faint disarray, an unconnected jumble of people on a dark stage. Tony walked up the front and started to yell. He pulled apart every detail, everything anyone did wrong, what looked like perfection to Therese was a case of – as he put it- amateur performances that would cost hundreds. Everyone sighed, wiped their brow and took it; some nodded along while others averted their gaze and drew their mouths in a cold snarl. Carol nodded, her expression unreadable, almost dead and held her pose, waiting for the music to start again. Tony circled around her like a predator; only Therese could never imagine Carol being anyone’s prey. It made her want to set her teeth and growl at Tony, there was something about the way he looked her up and down, not in the usual way men would, not objectively but with contempt and disgust. But Carol was unaffected, unaware even.

“Distraction is the game of a devil’s mind Carol.” Tony quipped in the same tone of disgust as in his eyes.

Carol’s shoulders stiffened visibly and her gaze finally found Therese. Therese yearned to go to her and take her into her arms. Whatever Tony had meant was lost to her but she knew for Carol’s reaction to it that it didn’t bode well, for both of them. She had been here long enough Therese decided and started to go back to work.

She had made it halfway back to the production house when her phone buzzed.

 

Are you free at all this evening? I want to see you.

 

Therese’s heart warmed.

 

yes. i can meet you in 45

 

Going to see Rindy. Meet me there?

 

Therese smiled, her desire to be with Carol in that moment grew, almost making her reckless.

 

alright. text me the address and I’ll see you there

 

Therese tried to finish up her work for the day before going to Carol. She had only managed to place the order for the paint and managed yet another fruitless meeting with the architects. It was a half hour of bickering over whether it was possible or not to have the set rise on its own and support the dancers. Therese had seen it happen and she knew it was possible but no one was willing to think about how it was possible rather than thinking about the possibility itself. She decided to call the meeting off early. She promised to produce samples next time and hopefully it would give them an idea of how it would work. The sun had long since set when Therese stepped out and made her way to Carol, though at this time of the year it hardly mattered, it seemed to be dark anytime Therese stepped out.

It was a big hall with empty chairs and tiny ballerinas on stage; it looked like a giant dollhouse room. There were only about a handful of parents in the audience, some were standing near the stage and shouting encouragement at their kids. At least she hoped it was encouragement, their echoing voices overlapped each other in a painful cacophony, making their words illegible. There in the third row from the back was Carol, dressed in dark clothes as she always was, today she wore grey, her hair always seemed to contrast off her clothing and reflect whatever light fell on them. Quietly seated away from the stage but in the middle of the row so she could see all that was happening comfortably. Therese walked towards her. The easy smile on Carol’s face became clearer as Therese got closer, the crinkles around her eyes and the pride in her gaze, all directed towards Rindy. She was on the stage; nodding along excitedly with the instructions her Madame gave. Therese slowed her walk, not wanting to interrupt this moment. She would feel guilty if she took up any of the little time that Carol had with her daughter, even if Carol was just watching Rindy dance, who was blissfully unaware of the attention. Therese decided to stand in the back, near the exit door, should Carol notice her she could just say she had just entered. Though it was highly unlikely that that should happen because Carol was transfixed, she wouldn’t let a storm take her eyes away from the stage. Carol brought her hand up and pressed her fingers against her mouth, she was covering her growing smile, showing teeth and making her laugh lines run deeper. Therese watched her; she wished all parents were as devoted to their children as Carol was. She thought of her own mother, after so many years, she thought of the wild contrast between her tight smile and Carol’s delighted expression. There was sadness in it; Carol’s eyes were glassy because these minutes were precious to her, more than any gold, more than any star or any elixir. Therese had stopped being angry with her mother years ago, she had stopped feeling sorry for herself too, however, she couldn’t help but feel remorse over not knowing a loving mother, she wondered if she had missed out on a lot.

Fifteen minutes or so had passed and the performance of the tiny dancers had come to a close. She watched Carol stand up and clap loudly, it echoed off the walls and amplified its clear slap very shrilly. She watched Rindy acknowledge where it came from with a squeal and she ran to grab her pink bag, that was set by the end of the stage, then jump off the stage towards her mother.“Mommy!” Rindy yelled as Carol met her halfway and scooped her up into her arms, pressing kisses to the side of her small round face which sent the girl into a flurry of giggles.

“Mommy!” Rindy yelled as Carol met her halfway and scooped her up into her arms, pressing kisses to the side of her small round face which sent the girl into a flurry of giggles.

She watched Carol talk to her daughter, almost in whispers, both of their heads so close as if their conversation had to be completely private. Sometimes Carol would throw her head back and laugh and then kiss the top of Rindy’s head. Therese walked closer still.

“Daddy said you couldn’t meet me for a long time because you were sick.” Rindy toyed with Carol’s necklace.

“Where is your Dad, sweet pea?” Carol watched her daughter, her expression didn’t even sour at the mention of Harge.

“In the car. He said he would wait for me outside because all this music would give him a headache.” Rindy pouted slightly and nuzzled closer to her mother.

“Well, you better hurry up then sweet pea. Don’t keep Daddy waiting.” Carol kissed the top of Rindy’s head again and let her down from her hip.

“Can I tell Daddy about this? He won’t be anger will he?” Rindy suddenly asked, adjusting her bag on her shoulders.

Therese saw Carol’s breath catch; children had a brilliant capacity to be blunt and unfiltered in their perceptions. Carol took a second longer to straighten her expression out and she kneeled down to Rindy’s eye level.

“You can tell him whatever you want sweetie. Remember we both love you very much.” Carol took Rindy’s small hands in hers and placed kisses on both of them before standing again and turning Rindy around.

“Now go on sweetie I’ll see you soon.” It was forced. A white lie. Therese could hear her own mother saying those words in front of the gate of her boarding school. But this wasn’t her mother, this was Carol; Therese shook her head and finally went up to join her.

“Hi.” Therese came and stood beside Carol.

“Hey,” Carol said, watching Rindy leave. She was restless, Therese could immediately tell. Just as Rindy had gone out of both of their sights, Carol turned to Therese.

“Why didn’t you come sit with me?” Carol asked.

“I..” Therese cast her eyes away. She would lie and say she had just come by but she couldn’t bring herself to lie to Carol. Not right now.

“Let’s walk.” Therese could feel Carol start to move away but she kept her eyes to the ground, frozen in place. She felt fingertips graze the back of her hand; she looked up to find gray eyes looking at her with longing, so expectant, with so much pain behind them.

“Come on.” Carol prompted again and laced their fingers together. And with a tug, Therese followed.

They walked for what felt like hours to Therese. Carol had released her hand soon after they exited the little hall Rindy’s practice was taking place in. They had been walking besides each other in silence for god knows how long, Therese wondered if she had gone deaf and couldn’t hear anything that Carol was saying. The words that were unsaid between them felt palpable, like distance chatter that wasn’t indistinguishable enough to be white noise but not close enough to be understood either. It felt like being slowly crushed, to be blocked out of her world like this. Therese was trying to will herself to probe, to get Carol to talk but her words where caught. They strained her, to the point where she could feel a physical ache start in her chest and collect in the back of her throat.

“Carol, what’s wrong?” She pushed. Therese hadn’t expected an answer but she couldn’t take the silence anymore.

“Harge knows. Of us.” Carol answered minutes after. She gave a wry smile, her chin slightly wobbling and betraying the strength in her voice.

Therese was speechless, she looked at Carol wide-eyed and slightly flushed from all the walking. She had anticipated this, he would eventually know but till what extent would it affect them? Therese hadn’t let herself think of that. They both turned from the street to walk into a nearby park.

“He said he had warned me before that if I pull a “stunt” again this time that he would file for full custody. And he has.” She spoke matter of factly, as if it didn’t bother her. Therese felt unnerved by Carol’s coldness.

“A morality clause. A pattern of behaviour. Indulging in affairs and then running away from my responsibilities. He’s going to use it against me. Says he’ll get me back because it will help me in the long run.” Carol let out a snort. Therese couldn’t follow but she tried.

“And just like that I can’t see her for 3 months. Not before the hearing.” Carol was still walking but Therese had fallen behind, rooted in her place, stunned.

“Carol. Stop.” Therese called, her voice was weak, the shout sounded more like a squeak to her but Carol did stop. She turned around and met Therese’s gaze.

Therese walked closer to her, approaching her slowly, she didn’t know why. Maybe if anything else happened too quickly Therese would pass out. She gently reached out for Carol’s hand, her fingers ghosting over Carol’s knuckles. She watched Carol’s eyes close as she took her hand into her own. They walked away from the path and sat behind the trunk of a large tree. Carol sat with her back resting on the tree trunk while Therese sat in front of her with her legs crossed, just like they did in the studio. Therese took Carol’s hand in her own again, gently massaging it, both to comfort Carol and also to soothe her itch to fidget.

“Do you think it’ll stick?”

“Maybe. Harge has quite the team of lawyers.” Carol scoffed.

“Will you fight it?” Therese focused on Carol’s fingers. Her freckled pale hand and how her delicate fingers gave away under the pressure of her own fingers. She felt their softness and felt a pang of desire jolt through her. She admonished herself.

“No. I don’t see how I could.”

“Does Tony know?” Therese steeled herself for the answer.

“Of me? Yes but not about you.” Therese looked up and she assumed Carol saw the confusion in her expression as she continued.

“He doesn’t know I’m with you. But he knows I was with someone that night at the party.” Carol’s voice was bored, teetering on edge of irritation and total dismissal.

“I don’t blame him for being apprehensive. After all I am a ticking time bomb that would mark the end of his career.” It shocked Therese that Carol would recite back to her the words she had heard so many times around the studio, it made sense that Carol had heard these things but to hear them out of her own mouth disturbed Therese.

“Does it bother you? What people say about you?” Therese ran her short nails across Carol’s palm as she spread her own hand flat against Carol’s, aligning their fingers and palms together.

“Does it bother you?”

“No.”

“Would Tony mind if knew we were together?” Therese asked after a long silence.

“Yes.” Her tone was short, Therese knew Carol was bored with this conversation but she still had so much that she wanted to know.

“What does this mean for us?”

“You know what it means.” Carol snapped, her sharp tone cut through Therese’s composure and she suddenly couldn’t hold her tears back.

Therese felt strong arms envelop her, familiar warmth all around her. She balled fabric of Carol’s jacket into her fists as she felt hot tears spill out of her. She felt Carol nose on the top her head, burrowing into her hair. Carol’s hands ran up and down her back. Therese slightly rocked in Carol’s arms. Even after Therese had gone quiet, she stayed still in Carol’s arms. Her ear was pressed against Carol’s chest and over the fabric of Carol’s jacket sleeve, she could see people walking, enjoying the stillness of the park. She listened for Carol’s heartbeat. Steady and Strong. Composed and separated from the chaos that seemed to have fallen upon her. Did it know that it beat for one person but kept two alive? That should it fail in its simple task both hers and Carol’s life would come to a stop? Therese turned in Carol’s arms, pressing her forehead into Carol’s breasts and wrapping her arms around her waist.

“I love you. I love you.” Therese whispered reverently, her eyes squeezed shut. She pulled herself closer to Carol. Carol’s arms wrapped tighter around her and Carol’s head shifted to nuzzle Therese wherever it found purchase.

She felt stronger, locked in Carol’s arms, closer than kissing. Therese raised her head and she saw Carol, she watched her lips quiver, begging to be kissed. A small noise came from Carol just as Therese ran her thumb across her lips and it made Therese want to hold her closer, kiss her rougher, paw at her jacket and move against her, with her. Suddenly Carol pulled away and stood, tugging on Therese’s shoulders to make her follow. Carol grabbed Therese’s hand, first very tightly, the pads of her fingers digging into the tendons on the back of Therese’s hands then her grip softened. She gave one last look to Therese’s lips and then silently led them to her car.

When they were finally alone, they kissed with such intensity, such passion that anxieties of the day ceased to exist. They undressed each other and just as they both stood completely naked, Carol pulled Therese into a tight embrace, pulling her closer and closer even when there was no space left between them. In each other’s arms, the world ceased to exist for the both of them and Therese knew she wouldn’t miss the world for even a second in Carol’s arms.

Chapter Text

The sets had to be transported for a trial run. The date for the ballet was fast approaching but Therese was on schedule with all her duties, the extra work she put into Act 4 had paid off and Tony had not only been impressed by Therese’s

set but with her efficiency as well, he made sure that Therese was aware of the importance of discipline in his field and how under his wing there was nothing that could overrule the importance of discipline.

Tony had gained an ugly picture in Therese’s mind, she had never found his forward touches to be anything other than unwelcome, she had never found his oily, curly, thick black hair that everyone fawned over particularly attractive but now she had started to detest it. He talked about himself and his work with pride of a man who had took the queen’s virginity. For in the grand scheme of things, his achievements; which had seemed grand at first but now had lost their importance having had heard them fifty or so times, were insignificant, imaginary. His glory was a construct of his own mind yet he festered in it and wore it like a cloak that hugged his skin tight and dragged along with his step, weighing him down. Therese suddenly remembered how had draped his arms around Carol’s waist once, claiming that his interest in dance could never make him flamboyant, he went so far as to say that it made him feel more like a man especially when women like Carol were around. Therese remembered feeling an overwhelming urge to protect Carol, and the longer his hand stayed on her waist, the more violent her urges became. Regardless, Therese bore his waffling and carried on with her work, deflecting praises as best she could so that Tony would leave her alone as soon as possible.

The first two sets merely required finishing touches and the next two needed a painting touch up and varnishing. The sets would be decorated to achieve their final vision on the opening day, Jamie would be responsible for that so Therese didn’t bother to write that in her “to do” post it. The sets were travelling in huge trucks with all the crew stuffed in the back. Therese had been offered to join them, to share donuts and coffee while swaying in the back of a truck, sitting elbow to elbow, surrounded by panels upon panels of wood that strongly smelled off headache-inducing chemicals, Therese politely declined.

The sun had just started to paint the sky orange and a dulled blue, bringing on the first moments of morning even for those who already had their day in full swing. Winter was nearly here; Therese could feel the chill through her jacket. She adjusted her ponytail and checked for her hair band in case she wanted to push her bangs back; she walked past the fountain in the middle of the courtyard in front of the American Ballet Theatre. The gentle spray of water bade her to look up and she took in the site of the building. In complete contrast to their studio, the building was a testament of beautiful modern architecture; rectangle, long panel windows and beyond them hung beautiful paintings that could inspire a million plays, evenly spaced pillars across its front, arches joined the pillars giving it a flair of the Greek while still maintaining its modernity. Therese waited for her crewmates to arrive before heading in.

The actual theatre was unlike anything Therese had seen; it was almost a cocoon of red velvet and orange, with its ambient lighting and beautiful scarlet interiors. There were four floors, lined with progressive seating on each of their three sides. They entered through the right exit and Therese saw lines and lines of red cushioned seats on both sides of her. She looked up in wonderment, like a child taking in the clouds before it rains, there was large ball in the middle, made of units of round lamps, it didn’t look dissimilar to a disco ball but somehow just went with the elegance of the place. The geometric patterns on the ceilings and harsh lights confused Therese’s eyes and as she looked away, light danced in front of her eyeballs and she could still only see the ceiling pattern and the light dissipating before her. She looked in front while everything slowly swam into view. She started to walk down the right aisle along the seats, lead by her feet, to her the stage looked hypnotic, drawing her in like a wicked sorceress. She came stand in the middle of the stage and looked around, the theatre curving in front of her eyes, it seemed like the world begun and ended here, it felt magnificent.

“Take a picture Pixie! It’ll last longer!” called Joel, rolling huge stage lights towards the backstage with the entire weight of his body.

Therese fished out an old crumpled sheet of paper out of her bag and flung it at him, he ducked behind the lamp, and the paper ball hit the pole and bounced off into the sea of red beside it.

“Just get set up you ass! Don’t forget I’m your boss for today!” Therese yelled. Joel stuck his tongue out to her and scrunched his face, acknowledging her empty threat. 

The set up had taken longer than expected. They were already to lunchtime till all the sets got fully assembled and till the lighting got fully set up. It didn’t just take people; it took machines, cranes and pulleys, saws and hammers being used to make minor adjustments. Therese wiped her forehead once, out of habit mostly since the air conditioning in the hall chilled her to the bone. She grabbed her paper cup of coffee and headed outside, even if it was just to make sure that the world still existed outside. It was only late afternoon but Therese had started to slow down, the excitement of morning facing with every stressful situation caused by the slightest inconvenience. This took more out of her than Therese admitted but everyone around her seemed to be just doing fine so she didn’t want to whine. She rolled her shoulders with effort, walking on marble flooring across the lobby, not caring about how much of a mess she looked, she stepped outside and found tingling warmth spreading over her. It was unusually warm for the afternoon and the sun had started its journey back towards the horizon, she was starting to miss the sunlight, thinking that it was probably her work hours that made her paler. Therese could’ve convinced herself that no time had passed between the first time she set foot out her taxi and now. She made her way to the bench on the far left of the courtyard.

She watched people walk by, settling and quickly becoming lazy. With her coffee still being a bit too hot for her, she switched hands and pressed the warm palm to her neck and slowly massaged. She moved her hand down to her collarbone and noted a slight sting. She smiled to herself; she knew what caused it or largely who caused it. Her fingers traced her collarbone through her thin knit sweater, along the bone where she knew there were marks of red and purple, marks of where Carol had spent more than necessary time kissing. Therese felt her face grow hot and her stomach twist, she didn’t shy away from how Carol made her feel anymore, she decided to bask in it. It would only be a few minutes till her coffee cooled and she would head back in, for a minute she felt relaxed, her only respite for the day.

Then came another wave of unending work, they had to switch the sets out for the first stage test, so that the dancers could get the feel of the sets and for the crew to make alterations if necessary. Therese’s gut was tight; she was worried about a flaw making itself known and them having to rebuild a set. She watched each set get set up perfectly but the knot kept getting tighter. She was worried about the forth set. Would it work? Would it throw the dancers off? Would all her work finally pay off? 

They set it up with utmost care, the dimensions were perfect and the set fit nicely against the background, it only obscured the dancer’s marks that had been made with chalk on the stage. 

 

Check. Therese called in her mind

 

Then she held her breath as the orchestra picked up their music and the ballerinas unfroze from their spots and started to dance. Her eyes were set on two strong feet covered in soft pink satin and she focused entirely on them and stage beneath. She saw nothing else. She felt focused enough to see the dust and dirt rise up each time the platform of a pointe shoe hit the stage and go up again, and then back on the stage and then up again, disappearing and reappearing in her vision. She watched Carol’s feet kick and then go into a flurry, fluttering back and fort like wings of a butterfly desperate to drink the nectar of the freshly bloomed flowers on the first day of spring. Therese chewed on her bottom lip; she wanted so desperately for her set to work, she wanted so vehemently to prove that she was worth her salt, she wanted it so obsessively that even the burn in her lungs that ached for air wouldn’t make her breath before the set truly did work. Her lips were chapped; she could feel a slight burn as she ran her tongue over them. She took a bit of flaking skin and enclosed her teeth around it, Carol’s feet had reached their mark and the Finale was a growing crescendo. Her teeth slowly started to peal the skin back but Therese was unaware that her mouth was doing so for she only cared about what was in front of her in that moment. As the music roared, bows glided violently across strings of violins, the membrane of the drums trembled under strain, the heads of their players trashed along with the music; lost in the movement. Rosin flitted through the air; like golden dust in the orange light that shone on the orchestra, blinding reflections came off the polished French horns and trombones. 

The floor that the dancers currently stood on was elevated; a risk she had took, ensuring that it would be hard enough to support the dancers. It was disguised as overgrown terrain, as if the lakeside had turned dastardly and Von Rotbart had taken over it. It’s overgrowth spilt over the front of the stage, onto the steps. Smoke crawled in from the side and the lighting cut off. In the next moment, Therese could hear the stage rising and the cliff being folded out. Therese’s eyes widened, burning due to long exposure to cold air and all her breath came out in one long exhale. The lights came back on, albeit a second later than the music, and then it happened. She managed it; the ground had changed into a cliff. Her teeth ripped back from her lip in surprise, soft skin stinging but Therese couldn’t care, not even for the metallic taste that graced her mouth. Carol walked up the steps of the cliff, her face conveying every emotion Odette could’ve felt and her movements embodying all of her grace and all of her tragedy. Therese could’ve wept in that moment. Carol’s arms fluttered frantically and with the last call of the trombone, she fell backwards with not a hint of trepidation on to a mattress behind the cliff. There was a discipline in her movements, always. Her feet carried her with such command as if they were soldiers carrying orders from their General but yet there was nothing stiff about them. Carol seemed to glide over wherever she would tread or whatever she would do. It was always graceful, always fluid, always precise. Even in bed Therese thought and smiled to herself. She was always perfect. 

The last notes of the Finale played only minutes ago but the crowd around her yelled louder than the orchestra, drowning their efforts. It was mostly her crewmates and some dancers but she could see the awe in everyone’s eyes. It would be a challenge to get the timing absolutely right of rise of the stage and the music but they would do it. Therese felt bashful, even after the praise had died down and the sound of mindless chatter had begun. She saw Carol looking at her from across the hall, pride palpable in the look she gave Therese.

Therese’s phone buzzed in the second.

 

Dressing room. 5 mins

 

Therese nearly tripped over herself in the hallway as she made her way to the dressing room. She didn’t bother to knock, simply opening the door and slipping in before any one could notice her. Therese was still in her gleeful daze. Carol almost instantly turned around and appraised her.

“Sweetheart, your lip. It’s bleeding.” Carol pulled out a cotton ball from a jar on her table and reached for her bottle of antiseptic lotion, always in her bag for easy access.

“It’s nothing. They are just dry. I’ll put some water on it, it’ll be fine.”

Therese felt her lip then, acknowledging the tender skin. The blood had dried but she wanted to check to make sure. Therese started to walk towards the bathroom. Suddenly, Carol gripped her wrist and tugged back, almost painfully. Therese looked back her, wide eyed, confused.

“It’s not clean. I’ve just used it. Come sit down.” Carol said almost apologetically.

Only now did Therese notice the smell of the alcohol in the room. It was the rye that Carol so dearly loved and it permeated the room. Therese’s glee deflated instantly and felt the familiar turns of anxiety kick start her heart rate and the churning of her stomach.

“Have you been drinking?” Therese whispered.

“On the job? Never. Just from last night, didn’t sit in my stomach quite right. Threw it all up this morning. Nothing more than two glasses.” Carol quietly explained, back still to Therese, sitting unnerving still in her chair.

“Carol? Are you okay? Is everything fine?” Therese came to kneel before Carol, putting a hand on her knee both as comfort and to balance herself.

Silence.

“I will be going away for awhile” Carol didn’t meet Therese’s gaze and kept focusing on her fidgeting hands.

“When? Where?” Her words came out rushed, Therese felt herself grow wild with worry.

“I just won’t be here in the studio. Harge served some papers last night. Demanding that I should take a few days off before the show to ‘rest’ and apparently Tony agrees with him, effectively kicking me out. That bastard.” Carol scoffed and then turned to Therese.

Carol put her palm on Therese’s cheek and ran her thumb over Therese’s hurt lip. The coarse blood clot scraped against the skin of Carol’s thumb and Therese suddenly had the image of her licking it off her thumb. Instead, Carol just simply raised Therese’s chin up slightly and finally cleaned the cut with her cotton.

“Why were you trying to hide it from me?” Therese jerked her chin towards the bathroom, stilling Carol’s movements.

“Because I worry about what you’d think of me.” Carol wryly smiled.

“Carol I love you.” Therese was exasperated that Carol would even think she was anything but magnificent in her eyes. It was almost as if her faith had been challenged, had she taken her boarding school seriously maybe she would be able to be sure that this was what worship and religion felt like. 

“So you think.” Carol got up from the chair and walked to the other end of the room, putting distance between them.

“And why shouldn’t I think so?” Therese was still kneeling, watching Carol from the floor of the dressing room.

“How many times have you been in love Therese?” Carol questioned after a minute’s silence. She crossed her arms and leant back against the wall.

“Never before you.” Therese looked down, her cheeks quickly colouring red. She felt like a teenager, being scolded for tardiness. She felt silly.

“Then how can you know?” Carol questioned.

“I’ve never been so happy in my life Carol.” Therese was teetering on being distraught. Where had this come from? Why was she questioning their love? Had she done something to insinuate otherwise?

“What is happiness, Therese? What makes it tangible? What makes it quantifiable? You assume you’ve never been so happy before but how can you judge? Surely moments in time after this will over shadow this happiness.” Carol’s voice was cold, yet somehow still not unkindly. Therese thought she should be used to it by now, for Carol had the capability to be cruel.

“What could possibly overshadow this?”

“A premier. Big productions. Fame. Glory. The lights and the screen. What everyone yearns for. Why waste your happiest moment with an old fool like me?” Carol said, like a reproach.

“I don’t want those things Carol. I want you.” Her voice rang weak in her ears, on the brink of breaking and shattering to dust completely.

“Didn’t you want Richard at one point?” Therese thought for a second.

“No. I never did.” She decided. “He wanted to marry me but I never did. I never liked the idea. Not of marriage or children. I know girls should want it but I never did. I liked that he had a family, I wanted a family more than him” Therese knew she never loved Richard. She liked the thought of Richard. His boyish smile and strength, any girl would’ve wanted someone like him. He had a strong background and wanted to raise a family as quickly as possible, so proud was he in himself. Therese always needed someone as strong as him but his affection felt overpoweringly flat. Therese found herself unable to reciprocate his sentiments, no matter how much she tried.

“But you will, in time. You are young yet. Eventually you will want a family. It will happen.” Carol smiled again. “But how can it just happen to someone?” Therese didn’t see anything funny in it. Why bring up Richard right now? What was Carol trying to do?

“I happened didn’t I?” Carol laughed. It enraged Therese that she found this funny, what felt like torture brought a laugh to Carol’s face.

But you are different! I didn’t need to make a decision with you. I decide whether I want a family but I can’t decide whom I fall in love with! Don’t compare yourself to Richard and call it a fair comparison because it is not, not in a million years! Because I’ve never felt an iota of emotion for him in comparison of what I feel with you! Of what I feel for you! What is a symphony compared to meager scales? What is a ballet compared to drunken swaying? What was my life compared to the paradise I feel now? Stop trying to make me rethink this! I know what I want! Stop trying to push me away! Therese wanted to yell it but she couldn’t find her voice. Her emotions clogged her throat and she couldn’t do anything except stare at Carol.

“I expected that you wouldn’t have an answer because you like the thought of things, the ideas that you twist and manipulate in your mind to give them this grandeur that should anything change them, you would deny it. But people aren’t ideas Therese. We have history and factors, complexities and intricacies that are attached to us. You cannot choose the facets you want of a person.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Therese said breathlessly.

“I don’t want to hurt you. I know it’s hard to believe sometimes but I don’t. You have to understand that while you don’t want to marry or have children, I have been married. It’s different when you go through that. And I have a child and Harge is the father of my child, I did love him at some point-“

“As you did Abby.” Therese challenged, not wanting to stay quiet and be given a lecture.

Therese could see in Carol’s eyes widen; she could see that it registered.

“Yes. And she is my best friend. And their lives are factors that influence mine merely by being attached to me. Tony and these girls here, they influence me too. Regrettably so but they do. Do you understand that Therese? Would you be willing to consider them as well or would you choose to ignore them?” Carol’s voice grew softer, she came forward and took Therese by the hand, so that she would stand and face her.

Therese thought back to the conversation she had with Phil. About how her relationship with Carol would not be good for her, being attached to a big public figure would forever turn her into just an attachment, an accessory especially since she was just a fresh face. Therese thought of it then too and she thought of it again, how could people just be accessories, when they feel, when they move, when they live? And Therese never felt so alive as she did when she was with Carol, so how could she be an accessory and not an extension? She could never be as impersonal as an attachment to Carol.

“They don’t matter. I really don’t care about other people’s history. I care about your complexities, your facets. I am sorry, I really don’t care.” Therese stood closer to Carol, taking her hand.

“Then all this conversation means nothing to you. So why should I even bother telling you?” Carol took Therese by the waist and pressed their bodies together.

“Will you kiss me?”

“Your lip hasn’t healed.”

“I don’t care.”

Nothing really mattered but Carol’s lips against her own. In that moment, she closed her eyes and in the next she found herself in her own apartment, being pushed into her old squeaking mattress with the weight of Carol above her. The sting of her cut didn’t matter neither did the pain when Carol’s gently bit down on her lower lip. Therese felt Carol everywhere, on her lips, on her breasts, on her stomach, her thighs, every sensitive area she had; she felt Carol on it. Her soft lips that surely left red lipstick in its wake, her silky blond hair that tickled porcelain skin, her tongue laving at her and adding to her wetness, making her twist and arch off the bed. Nothing mattered beyond Carol’s taste on her tongue, her essence on her fingers, her smell, her feel, her touch. In those hours, they existed in one singular plane beyond the earth, as if flung into space. In those hours, they existed with the stars, burning with the same intensity as any of them. Together.

Chapter Text

Therese woke up slowly. The world around her was surprisingly silent. She felt warm and sore, the blankets were light and comfortable but her body felt heavy, sinking into the mattress that trapped her in its warmth and comfort. The blanket was never enough to keep the cold out and the mattress was stiff every day until today. Therese rolled onto her back, expecting to collide with a body that soundly slept beside her all night, instead her back heavily landed on a cold empty space behind her. She lethargically reached for her phone on the dresser, which was surprisingly plugged in; there were no new messages. Therese squinted at the screen, searching it for the time, 11:29 am. She started to wonder when Carol left, her heart sinking slightly at the thought of them apart, why didn’t she wake her up? Had she had breakfast? Therese rubbed her eyes and tried her best to remove the crust that almost sealed her eyes shut; this was the best sleep she had had in a while. She reached for her phone again and noticed a little post-it stuck to her lampshade.

 

My Darling Therese,

             Had to leave early. Wait for my call tonight.

                                                               All my love,
                                                                        Carol.

 

Therese felt the warmth come back to her and her face broke into a slow grin. She took the post it of the lampshade and saw some writing on the back of it.


P.S Yes I did have breakfast.
I’ll compensate you for that pop tart soon. Do your groceries.

 

Therese laughed. To laugh just to let out the sheer joy bubbling in her, Therese thought she would never feel this pure of an emotion again.

She had the day off so doing household chores would be the sensible option. Her mental checklist wrote itself and she thought about all that she had to do. She would probably be done before afternoon anyway. Maybe she’d go out and get Carol something from that nice antique shop she always saw on her way to Dannie’s place. She had her eyes set on a vintage music box she always saw beyond the window display. She had gone in once and asked about it, it was a small rectangular box, it’s porcelain had been stained yellow over the years and the soft teal paint had chipped and faded, the gold that embellished it’s corners needed some polishing but it was surprisingly well preserved and it had decorations of flowers in soft pink. It had a hand crank on the side, a small metal handle that had lost its hilt and had become crooked. If you opened it, a ballerina would pop up, she would spin on one toe with her other leg kicking out. Her arms were up, delicate in motion. Her foot that kicked out was broken off and her pink tutu had lost its details, it was old and it showed its age but it was not ugly, it was beautiful in the way only old things could be, where the beauty was held in the history of the cracks and faded paint. She turned the handle slowly and it played Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Therese fondly remembered the time Carol and her were walking towards a restaurant, eager to eat and get back to work quickly since lunchtime was only for an hour but their languid pace told the tales of comfort and there was no rush in their step despite their circumstance. Therese took them along the path that had trees curving above it, making arches of orange and red; Therese crushed leaves underneath her shoes while Carol told her about how much Rindy loved playing in the leaves and when Christmas would come, she would ask where the leaves went as if they magically disappeared and would never come back and of how she would see the snow and then promptly go and jump in it, the leaves of autumn are forgotten and Rindy is more than happy with the replacement. They had stopped near a jeweller, a small set of pearl earrings had caught Carol’s eye and she had to get them. They ended up rushing back to work with two sets of earrings, a bracelet for Rindy, a charm for Therese and an empty stomach. Therese toyed with the leaf that hung on her silver bracelet now; it was a jade leaf that was lined in gold. Carol had bought it when Therese wasn’t looking. Carol had grabbed her wrist on their way back and delicately attached the charm to her bracelet. She came back from her reverie as a bell chimed, indicating that someone else had come into the store. Therese decided then that she would restore the music box by hand and give it to Carol on Christmas. The shopkeeper had graciously agreed to hold on to the item for her, for when she had the time and money to get it. Today she had both, Therese decided to finally buy the item and get to work on it. It would keep her busy till Carol called her.

The morning had set the tone for the day, it was a bright and comfortable day, with soft winds blowing her hair, patches of sunlight who’s warmth felt welcoming but when she stood in the shadow of a building, she could feel the chill of an upcoming winter. It all made her yearn for Carol even more. Maybe Carol would’ve held her hand as they walked around New York. Maybe she would’ve offered her jacket when Therese visibly shivered. She had no other plans today, she would be alone in her apartment for the better part of it too but for the first time, she didn’t feel alone. Even when they weren’t together, with Carol in her life, Therese didn’t feel alone anymore. Maybe she never would. Maybe Her, Rindy and Carol would be a family sometime in the future but even she knew those were hopeless daydreams made out of an amorous mind, incited and fueled by the romantic weather. She set to work on the music box as soon as she got back home, a little bit of polymer clay to fix the foot and the handle and some paint and varnish used carefully would restore it to its former glory. Therese set her mind to it but it kept wandering to sombre places, to the uncertainties she had about the future. If she weren’t picked up by another ballet or play, she would be out of a job. She would see less of Carol once the production was over. It wouldn’t be the same, not when they didn’t meet everyday and went home together almost every night. They both wouldn’t be the same either. Therese’s mind ran miles, she ached to hear her ringtone blare and to finally hear Carol’s voice, to soothe her nerves and help the calm wash over her. Her phone finally ringed at around eleven at night.

Carol asked her all about her day. She wanted to know everything, from what she wore to where she went and what she did. She asked about the groceries and Therese laughed till Carol threatened to come over there and shut her mouth for her. Carol didn’t say much about her own day, even when Therese asked. She sounded tired, in a quiet hurry to end the phone call.

“Are you feeling well?” Therese asked.

“Not really sweetheart. I should take it easy and go to bed. I’ll have trouble going to sleep without you here”

“Yes.” Therese closed her eyes; picturing Carol slumped on the side of her bed.

“Do you have nothing else to say?”

“I love you”

Carol whistled. “We need to be up early tomorrow, darling. You should go to bed. And don’t worry about me, will you?”

They said their goodnights just like that. A moment later, Therese slipped into bed and turned her light out.

Carol had asked her to meet her at lunchtime. Therese absentmindedly wrote it down on a loose scrap of paper and shoved it in her pocket. She made her way to Jamie’s office and they lost hours working out the last details of the sets. Jamie had asked Therese to help her with the costumes too, just so she had a fresh pair of eyes looking at them. They got done around noon. Therese went out to buy lunch for herself and Carol, a salad each from the nearby café Carol seemed to enjoy. She turned for the dressing rooms and bumped straight into some woman’s back. With an apology on her lips, Therese looked up to see Abby straightening her jacket, back stiffening, conveying her annoyance.

“Hey watch it bud- Therese?” Her stance softened.

“Yeah. Hi. Sorry, I didn’t --.” Therese looked back and tried to vaguely explain before she got cut off mid-apology.

“You shouldn’t go inside. Carol isn’t in today.” Abby said coolly, meeting Therese’s stare.

“She isn’t?”

“She’s sick. You shouldn’t call. It’s best that she recovers quickly.” Abby smiled, thin-lipped and tight, her mouth smiled but her eyes didn’t change. Therese knew that look, Abby pitied her and for what, Therese could only guess.

“Why shouldn’t I call her?” Therese spat.

“It’s for the best Therese. Trust me.” Abby adjusted her jacket again and shuffled on her feet.

“Are you gonna finish those salads on your own? Let me help.” Abby offered.

Therese set her teeth, holding back vile. Yet she accepted nonetheless, Abby was not unkind to her and Carol had chosen her instead of Abby. Therese couldn’t kick the hurt she felt from Carol not being here. She couldn’t fathom the fact of not calling her before bed, of not hearing her voice all day. Half the conversation was lost to Therese’s ears as turned those feelings in her head. Abby and her finished their salads on a bench just outside the studio, Abby asked about her work, how everything was going, whether she needed her to put in a good word to other producers. Therese refused, not wanting to be coddled. Abby seemed terribly interested in knowing her plans for after this ballet was done, offering help in anyway she could. Therese couldn’t hate her for being so kind but it set her on edge. Thinking about the future already rattled her nerves and this strange cocktail of uncertain intentions and nurturing advances made her entirely too unsettled. Abby extended her business card to her before leaving.

“Don’t be a stranger, alright? Give me a call if you need anything. “ Therese accepted the card and smiled meekly at Abby.

“We should get a drink sometime! Bye Therese!” Abby called out while walking towards her car.

Her stomach remained unsettled for the rest of the day. She couldn’t swallow even a gulp of water without feeling entirely squeamish and wanting to throw her guts up. She got done early and went home, her apartment felt uncomfortably warm, like a gas oven, suddenly the dust in the apartment was too much and Therese felt suffocated. She rushed to her kitchen sink and slapped cold water against her face, to cool her nerves and unclog her senses. An unexpected exhaustion fled over her and she fell onto her couch and promptly fell asleep. She woke up with a sore jaw and gravel in her throat, she had been sleeping with her cheek pressed into the hard arm of the sofa, dislodging her jaw and making her drool all over the arm. She moved her jaw around, to get some blood flowing in it and to hopefully soothe the pain. She picked up her phone on the way to grab a napkin to blot the couch and her heart leapt at the first message she saw.

Sorry I didn’t see you today sweetheart. Will call when I feel better.

Therese almost couldn’t comprehend it. She was happy that Carol had messaged however she felt the message was rather cold, impersonal. She brushed it off. She typed her reply and kept her phone beside her bed. She went rifling through her cabinets to find the last headache medicine she had. After quickly washing it down with tap water, she slipped into bed, the picture of the message she sent fresh in her mind.

see you soon. i miss you.

But Carol did not see her message, a week went by and there was no reply at all.
Therese kept herself busy with work, fixing that little music box and planning. She was looking for a new job already, applying to places and looking for upcoming productions near her place. Maybe she would take a vacation after this job, and maybe she could ask Carol to join her. Therese thought of all the things they would do, maybe go to the beach and get some sun; Carol had mentioned Paris as she reminisced about her old school trips. Maybe they would go to Paris or Italy and see the architecture, see the art, take in the delicious food and grow together. Therese should have enough money by the time her final paycheck for this job arrived, she could even take up a part time job somewhere. These daydreams often slipped between the cracks of conscience, when she took a step back and breathed after working for five hours straight. She found herself thinking of Carol, missing her but never feeling her to be too far away.

Work had been a good distraction; she almost didn’t want any down time to think about all these things. She worked during lunch and stayed on late, few things were left but they were crucial to the sets. The mirror at the end of the grand staircase in Act 3 had to be assembled and the Act 4 set needed to be painted. Jamie was an exquisite designer; the set for Act 3 was truly marvellous. Elaborate pillars on both sides of the stage that framed an elegant staircase that went down the middle, two thrones stood proudly on the left of the stage, elevated above the regular floor. Jamie had hand painted the carvings with gold leaf by hand and they looked simply magnificent. It was a ballroom scene. The Queen, Siegfried’s mother, had been insistent that Siegfried chooses a bride. Girls would dance in this ballroom, hoping to catch the prince’s eye and win his favour. But poor Siegfried had his heart promised to Odette. Just as he tries to explain so to his mother, Odile appears. A mirror image of Odette, who seduces the Prince, under Von Rotbart’s command, and the poor gullible prince falls in love and vows to marry Odile. That is where the brilliance of the set lies, at the top of the stairway lies what appears to be a grand mirror, with brilliant cravings and an ornate finish, but as Siegfried promises to marry Odile, the mirror changes and reflects Odile in it. Like a vision she appears, she is distraught, her movement is erratic as if fighting invisible restraints. It is a beautiful parallel that looks even more beautiful in motion. Therese had paid special attention to the building of this set, the mirror had a screen installed in it and that was what showed Odette’s image, a pre-recording of Carol dancing in full costume against a black background. Jamie had painted its surroundings in such a way that it hid in plain sight. Therese had been thoroughly inspired and wished to make something so ingenious once in her career.

Another week of strenuous work followed. Therese’s body had started to show signs of its neglect but it was yet to betray her. Carol still wasn’t back and Therese grew worried. She couldn’t have been sick for so long unless she was in the hospital. Carol would at least let her know if it were that serious. Therese suddenly felt that like Carol had left her in the dark. She thought about the court order Carol had mentioned, she would’ve told her if she had to appear in court. Therese had tried to call only a couple of times, she didn’t want to interrupt Carol’s rest or trouble her in any way yet none of the calls were even received. Therese thought of Carol leaving the state but brushed it off. Carol wouldn’t have left New York with the production still going. She would be back for the opening.

Therese entered the hallway. She heard laughter come down the hall, it was late and the studio was dark and silent save for the group of ballerinas in front of her. They were all still in their leotards, pointe shoes either in their hand or tied to the straps of their bag. One of them spun in an exaggerated pirouette and bumped into another girl. Both of them were tall and lanky, their collisions made them fumble and laugh even harder. They were all fresh faced obviously having just exited their dressing rooms. They all had strong features. Therese particularly liked the girl with curly hair; she would always have it pulled back in a bun, which looked simple yet elegant, the colour of her dark hair in perfect match with her flawless skin. They were all pretty girls but none of them enticed a strong enough response from Therese. Only Carol had the power to do that. She felt herself missing her, missing her company, missing her voice and her presence. She wished she had someone to go to tonight, when the weather was so dreary that it called for good companionship to liven it up. Therese longed for Carol, which only sparked more questions in her head about her.

“Got nowhere to go, Belivet?” A voice called from behind her.

Therese turned around to catch Genevieve come out her dressing room. Gen had an easy smile, she was charming enough that anyone would fall for her; she sauntered over to Therese and stood close enough so Therese could smell her perfume. It wasn’t comfortable; the sharp smell overpowered Therese and hit her tongue. She gasped for air and felt her eyes water a bit.

“Yeah. Alone for tonight.” Therese managed to answer.

“Well, why don’t you come out with us tonight? You know us ballerinas know a good time.” Gen raised her eyebrows, an open invitation with a lot of suggestion.

“Really?” Therese asked. Gen proceeded to describe what they would do for the night but Therese barely caught a word of it. She was still thinking of Carol. In a moment of madness, it struck her that maybe Gen knows something, before she knew it she was asking her about Carol.

“Please Therese. She’s gone. Probably found another whore to fill her time with. She left 3 productions before she took her little “break”. What would make this time any different?”

Silence.

Therese could faintly hear her name being called out behind her but she didn’t care. Suddenly, tears pricked her eyes, just as the cold wind outside did. She walked all the way back to her house, her calves burnt, she could feel the pavement through the soles of her shoe, her stomach brewed acid. The frantic jingle of her keys, her shaking hands, sweat that covered her forehead, all drew attention from the neighbours that entered their own home to find peace and calm with their family. The last sound from the outside was the gleeful squeal of a child and television cartoons till Therese shut the door of her apartment and ran to her sink. She hurled out her guts, leaving her mouth tasting like ilk. She spat twice and flushed down the putrid smelling emulsion. The apartment was filled with a horrible gurgling sound; Therese took off her jacket, typed in Abby’s number and saved it. She walked to her bed, exhausted and crumbled into it. Then came hot tears, making her body quake and shiver. She felt her muscles spasm from the crying and then she felt nothing. From an overpowering emotional spasm to nothingness.

She heard someone talking far away but she couldn’t crane her head to see whom. The talking was unintelligible, overlapping with what sounded like a music box playing music. In front of her, sat a dancer, in a white feathery tutu, folded over. She watched her rise to her feet gracefully. She watched every muscle in the woman’s body move and then lock into stance with her, her movements felt oddly inhuman and more animal. The music box got louder and so did the unintelligible muttering, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy started to play just as the woman flew into her first step. She turned around and finally Therese saw her face.

Carol.

Carol was dancing. So blatantly was she performing the introduction to swan lake but the music was wrong, her movements jerked, the muttering kept getting louder but Therese still couldn’t understand it. The scene felt so sinister but Therese couldn’t move. She couldn’t avert her eyes. She couldn’t do anything. Von Rotbart suddenly appeared and Carol grew frantic, fighting his sinister curse. The gentle sound of the Christmas music still played in her ears, it was all wrong with the struggle that went on in front of her eyes. In one final tug, Von Rotbart pulled Odette into the darkness, the music box stopped with a clang and to the left of her, she heard Carol yell her name.

She violently jerked her head to the side and found that she could, all of a sudden, miraculously look towards the sound. The mutters finally found a voice; it was Tony’s voice. He was telling the story of Swan Lake. Therese couldn’t tell which act. She looked ahead to see Carol again. She was in her casual clothes, the same maroon hoodie Therese had now taken for her own. She was talking with someone; from the back she had long brown hair much like her own and a petite figure. Therese found herself walking closer to them. Carol had the most amorous expression on her face, a smile of pure delight and her head thrown back in laughter but Therese couldn’t hear the sound of it over Tony’s voice reciting Siegfried’s betrayal. He talked about the dastardly Odile taking the prince away from Odette, then of Odette’s misery and devastation. The minute Therese got close enough, she watched the mystery woman turn around. Slowly and sinisterly. Therese let out a gasp and suddenly her hair was yanked and she was slowly being dragged into the darkness, away from Carol and the woman who looked like her. She screamed and she yelled but no voice came. The pain in her scalp becoming more and more pronounced, Tony’s voice overpowered everything.

Therese’s eyes opened again. Tony’s voice still rang in her ear but it was distant, faded as if it was no longer there. She grabbed her hair, her head throbbed again; Therese saw a box cutter lying straight in front of her on the coffee table. She reached for the box cutter; she roughly pushed out the blade so it would extend to its maximum. Her head swam again and she lined the blade behind her head along her hair. In the first moment, Therese felt a slight tension in her scalp go loose. In the next movement, she felt the sharp blade dig into her thumb. There was a sharp sting, a feeling of the muscle underneath her thumb being exposed to cold air. Then there was blood.

Therese felt sick again. Her eyes saw red, running down her arms and into the mattress. She grabbed her phone, the business card that lay next to it flew off the bed. Calling the first number she saw, Therese clutched the phone to her ear, shoving her thumb underneath her pillow to apply pressure to it. She closed her eyes; the grip on her phone was slipping. She felt reality fade and everything tuned out. She fell back into her dream again. Only this time it was tranquil. There was no noise. She was walking on an endless sidewalk, crushing autumn leaves in her wake. She heard the distant muttering again but she didn’t care. She already knew how the story ended.

So distraught was Odette at Siegfried betrayal that she went to the lakeside. The lake that was filled with her mother’s tears and all the swans had gathered there. She stood on the cliff top and took a leap. She finally found her freedom from the evil sorcerer's curse in an endless sleep.

 

 

Sound came first. She heard the click clack of heels, knocking of glass against a steel tray. Then came sight. The white ceiling swam into vision, first appearing blurry then slowly growing clearer. Then came smell. It all smelt sterile, clean and unusual. Therese turned her head and saw white walls. She knew she was in a hospital. Therese saw the nurse, ignoring her and passing a cup of what smelt like coffee to someone. She followed that hand and saw to whom that coffee belonged to.

Abby sat there with her legs crossed and a paper open in her lap, accepting her coffee with a gracious smile.

Chapter Text

The world around her was moving. Therese could tell from the clanking of syringes against steel somewhere close to her, closer still was the methodical beep of her heart rate and then there was the smell of coffee and medicine wafting to her and muddling together. A soft murmur of a crowd came from her right, it seemed to be muffled by something, a door perhaps; Therese didn’t turn to look. She saw the world in motion but she wasn’t a part of the movement; she was a mere spectator, at the mercy of the events around her. She could move but it wouldn’t change anything around her, this white box she found herself in would ignore her and move to its own rhythm.

Therese felt drowsy; her limbs felt heavy and her head heavier still. She felt detached from the actual room, from reality and it soon started to become unnerving. She saw her hand, somehow it didn’t seem like her own, and she followed the clear tube attached to it back to an IV on her left. Questions started to form in her mind, clearing the fog and waking her up slowly. She didn’t want to be frozen between the existing and the absent. She tried to clear her throat, to say something, anything, to bring her back to the world but all she could only manage was a whimper.

“Look who finally decided to wake up,” Therese whipped her gaze to Abby without moving her head. She watched her fold the newspaper in her lap slowly. The rustling of the paper echoed off the white, sterile walls; it made an itch bloom in the back of Therese’s head.

This sight brought her back to the world. It allowed her to connect sound to movement, to put reason behind this scenario and to attach meaning to her current condition. Her confusion was soothed and aggravated at the same time. Abby also brought Carol close to her, as if it were Carol sitting in that chair, sipping coffee and watching over her. It kicked the wind out of her; a thought so sudden and strong it made Therese lose her hold on reality again. She felt a sense of longing but on its tail, she felt betrayal, she wondered why it hadn't been Carol sitting there? Where was she at all?

“You got 10 stitches on your thumb and a request to see a nutritionist.” Abby’s voice cut through her thoughts, loud and unwelcome.

Therese inspected her hand, finally acknowledging the gauze around her thumb. Her mind worked in flashes. She remembered the feeling of complete and utter exhaustion, of degeneration, of defeat. Distraught felt like an understatement to her yet the only word she could attach to what she felt then. She remembered a nightmare but just the feeling of having a nightmare but what was actually in it was lost to her. She remembered waking up with to the strongest smell of iron in the air for the shortest second and passing out again. Frustrated, Therese felt a sudden rage, whitening her vision, leaving her light-headed.

“And why are you here?” Therese croaked, finally breathing in. The feeling of breath coming back to her all at once was startling. She cleared her throat and started to sit up, her body felt terribly weak but she made sure she didn’t fumble.

Abby sighed.

“You called last night. You wouldn’t call if it weren’t anything important so I guessed something was wrong and I drove over. Your apartment door wasn’t even locked.” Therese saw concern in Abby’s expression, for a second. It was replaced by that mocking glint in an instant, it made her set her teeth.

“Found you passed out on the floor in a pool of blood. Didn’t know I would be recusing anyone that night but it happened.” Abby let out a breathy laugh, it was painfully insincere to Therese.

Abby came to her and extended a prescription slip towards her, pink in colour and flimsy with a single crease across its middle.

“You didn’t loose too much blood, luckily I was in the area so I got there in time. Doctor says it wouldn’t have been that bad if you weren’t already suffering from fever and exhaustion. The fever should be gone now but in case it isn’t, here are the pills you need to take and also some supplements to help you recover.” Therese took the slip and tried to read it over, the messy scrawl made no sense but it kept her from looking at Abby.

Abby went back to her chair and sat down. Therese turned the information in her head several times. She tried to rack her brain for memories of what happened before she was in the apartment. She remembered Genevieve telling her something about going out, about having fun. She remembered the weather outside. She remembered the feeling lonely, missing Carol. Then she suddenly remembered what Genevieve said, clear as day. It sent a shot through her spine, making her sit up straight.

“Where is Carol?” Therese asked, her own voice sounding too loud in her ears. Abby’s eyebrows shot up in surprise for a second till she put her head down. She pressed two fingers against her forehead as if she was massaging a headache and kept her head down for a minute before looking back up at Therese.

“Look. You know about the court thing with Rindy right? You do know why she can’t call you?” Abby said irritably.

Therese knew that there would be a custody battle but she didn’t know it was actually happening, Carol didn’t bother to mention it nor did she mention why she couldn’t call.

“Is Carol getting better? Is she still sick?” Therese’s frustration was growing.

Abby thought over the question before speaking,

“She is getting better yes. But she is still sick.” Therese desperately tried to read her expression.

Silence fell over them for a minute, Therese saw Abby’s mouth turn into a sad smile. The ever-present mocking gleam in her eyes somewhat pensive but then Abby stood up straight and tugged her shirt smooth a couple of times.

“I better get going. I’ll be back in the afternoon to drive you home if they let you out of here today.”

Therese didn’t watch her go; she waited for the door to click shut. Just like that, she was alone again. Therese brought her thumb close to inspect it. She applied light pressure to the flimsy white gauze covering her thumb and hissed at the pain. She looked over at her prescription; Therese suddenly wanted to be out of the hospital bed, to be better instantly. She couldn’t stand being wounded for even a second longer. She felt angry at herself for being here in the first place. She felt angry at herself for feeling dejected by the fact that it was Abby who was here and not Carol. She felt angry at the fact that being left in the dark by Carol hurt her so much that she had nearly driven herself mad. She felt angry at the fact that all she wanted in that moment was to be in Carol’s arms, to call her, to run to her. She felt tears in her eyes, remembering how Carol’s warmth felt after she woke from a nightmare. She hoped that Carol would be there, to greet her, when she woke from whatever nightmare this was. Therese fell back into her hospital bed with a great thud, the hard bed barely sinking against her light body, and she wept. Wept till she felt she had cried all her insecurities, her disappointments, and her loneliness away. She would never cry again.

When the day came, Therese quickly got the formalities out of the way with her doctors; she called Dannie to ask him if he could come by in the afternoon and drive her home. She let her job know she would be taking a few days off to recover her health. Tony was nothing short of livid at the news, going on about how “inconveniences” like this would set them back and how the sets were the glory of the show and “how could Therese bear to ignore her duties at such a crucial time”. Therese knew she had done her part; her job was to supervise set building and build the models that Jamie directed her to. Their last run through proved that Therese had done all that she could and whatever was left was for Jamie to see over and perfect. Tony’s tantrum would’ve hurt her but she forced herself to not take it to heart. She steeled herself against it. She cut the phone on him abruptly, mid-conversation, and immediately dialled Jamie’s number. There were a few things she needed to be up to speed with so Jamie suggested that Therese came in for a little while whenever she felt up to it. She agreed. The Act 3 set needed inspection. The mirror was being hidden by two grand entrance doors, Jamie decided that Von Rothbart would make his exit from there, locking himself away with Odette’s vision and beckoning Siegfried to challenge him. Therese needed to check dimensions, give notes on the build and decide which wood was needed to build a door light enough to be big but still manoeuvrable by machine.

A week passed after her discharge from the hospital, her health had been recovering but Therese couldn’t shrug off her fatigue. She felt close to tears at all times, sometimes she found herself missing Carol so dearly that her stomach would ache to the point of nausea. It set her back, caused her to spend days curled in her bed doing nothing but still she tried to move on.

Therese waited by the bench for Jamie in the theatre’s courtyard. It was a dull morning; the clouds from last night’s rain were still in the sky. The graphite looked darker from the moisture and reflected what little light made it’s way past the clouds. The air had a light buzz in it, people were milling around with jackets tight around their bodies to fight the cold that rain in fall brought with it. Therese ripped a packet of sweetener open and carefully took the lid off her coffee. She put the sweetener in and blew at the steaming beverage. She looked around, waiting for the liquid to cool before taking a sip. To her left were two men, changing the poster for the NOW SHOWING ballet. They worked in unison, it as quite mesmerising. One quickly applied the glue on the plaque while the other laid the poster on top and quickly smoothed out the bubbles. Therese studied the poster then, walking closer to get a better view. A swan’s neck curved along the middle of a woman’s face, splitting it into two halves. One-half was hidden in the shadows, almost completely black with no definition while the other was exposed to intense light making it appear a flat, stark white. Text that ran over her lips, “SWAN LAKE” written in straight, crisp characters. She looked up again, to the face. Through the flat black and white were piercing grey eyes, defined and real. She felt lost in them; those same eyes had looked at her with such sweetness once. From across the dance floor, in the reflection of the studio mirror, close beside her on the pillow they shared. She had an image of being Odette, by a lakeside, startled by Von Rothbart’s sudden appearance. She saw herself dancing with Von Rothbart, her movements slow and restrained, trying and failing to make her escape and then falling under his spell. The same grey eyes flashed in her vision and mixed with Von Rothbart’s owlish face, sinister and villainous. She shuddered at the thought; those eyes suddenly gloated, they were laughing at her, at her misery. She felt a hand grasp her shoulder and she jumped back.

“Oh, sorry Therese. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” It was just Jamie.

Therese carried that poster in her head all day. She thought of the time when her mother’s sweater was the greatest comfort to her, merely because it smelt of her. She had taken it one night without permission when she was ill, hoping it would make her fever go away. She had sweated through it and her mother had slapped her because of it. Her mind attached meaning to things on its own, making her feel, making her believe. She didn’t want to think anymore.

The days after that went by fast because Therese willed them too. She wasn’t overworking but at the same time trying to keep her mind occupied. She wanted another production or any other job to fill the hours. She started to rearrange her apartment, her closet, suddenly finding it too juvenile. She needed to go the salon to get her hair cut properly, the short hair needed getting used to and she had no idea what to do with it. She thought of rent, how would she pay for this little dingy apartment with no job, when would the owners be back and ask for it. She tossed the tablet on her tongue to the back of her throat and swallowed with a mouthful of water, grimacing at the slight taste it left on her tongue. She noticed her phone vibrating and reached for it. It was Harkevy. Therese took a breath and answered.

“Therese! Finally. How’s your health?” He sounded a lot more chipper than usual Therese thought.

“Feeling a lot better now. Thank you for asking.” Therese tried to match his enthusiasm.

“That’s very well. I need to talk to you about a job in Chicago.” His voice turned serious.

“Chicago? That’s-“

“I know it’s too much to ask of you to move while you’re still recovering but it’s a big time production and they are willing to take you on as the head designer. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I want you to take it.”

Therese was struck. She wanted to take it, the prospect of another job was exciting on its own and getting head designer would allow her to grow; maybe she would finally start designing on her own and move up from assistant for good. But moving to Chicago was a task, even if it was for a little while. New York had been her home for so long. She remembered when she first came here, how long it had taken her to settle if it weren’t for Richard she probably wouldn’t have any friends here either. The dingy apartment, the nosy neighbours, and the honking cars outside her window, the greasy bars, that was what consisted of home for her. She decided she wouldn’t miss it.

“How long?” She knew she had to say yes.

“Just the regular production time, two to three months, you can come back early if you’d like.” Two to three months away. It filled Therese with equal parts anxiety and equal parts excitement.

“I would love to go. Mr Hakevy. This is mind-blowing really. I don’t really know what else to say” Therese spoke honestly.

“Perfect, I will let them know straight away.” Therese could hear Harveky’s smile.

“Oh and Therese?”

“Yes?”

“You’ll miss Swan Lake’s run here. The start of production over there overlaps with its showings over here, is that okay with you?”

Therese felt indifferent. It disturbed her but she knew she had done a good job, she had seen her sets in action. She felt weirdly detached. This job was a great opportunity and she wasn’t going to miss it over a show. Still, there was a nagging feeling at the back of her head that she shouldn’t go. She should stay and watch her show. Watch her sets come to fruition. Watch her perform on them once more.

Maybe Carol would call then; maybe she would come back to her. The thought made her sick. Therese shook her head. She would go.

“It won’t be a problem. Thank you for everything Mr Harkevy.”

Therese cut the line and exhaled. A smile grew on her face, strong and genuine, after what felt like an eternity. She felt free.

Only Dannie knew she was leaving, she had gone by to his apartment to make sure she had someone collecting what little mail she got. She called from the airport and said her goodbyes. Therese looked out at New York from her aeroplane window, little dotted lights on a midnight blue slate. She watched the lights disappear behind clouds as the plane flew higher. Her ears suddenly popped and all the sound around her dulled. Therese shut the blind on her window and put her headphones in.

It took Therese a while to settle down as she imagined. There was no one out there to help her but settling down on her own gave her a sense of freedom that she relished. She took her time, work taking up most of her hours causing her suitcases to go unpacked for a long time. She was working on the Nutcracker ballet. Another Tchaikovsky. Her piano teacher would be thrilled she thought and smiled to herself. The sets were just as demanding but just as interesting. As head designer, everything rested on her. It was her duty to create a winter wonderland, a place where it seemed as if Christmas was all year around. The Nutcracker ballet was a well-loved and well-known piece, everyone had seen iterations of it on screen and had their own images of it in their heads. Families would come and spend their Christmas watching this delightful dance, enjoying its story and humming along to the beautiful music; Therese needed it to be perfect. She found herself meeting her workload head on, her subordinates seemed to like and respect her and being in a new city seem to set her imagination wild. The production team worked amazingly well together and Therese enjoyed all of her colleagues’ company. Therese spent a lot of time at the dance studio, enjoying the music and the dancing, watching how whimsical it all seemed even when performed without the gorgeous costumes and the fairytale-like sets.

There was a party happening, the producing company was hosting it and of course, all the team was invited. Therese had splurged on her dress, it was quite the extravagance, but it fit her perfectly, accentuating her slight figure. Ever since she had come to Chicago, she had gained weight but her face had gotten thinner. She looked older; it made her happy that she had finally started to come into her own. Her heels clicked against the marble flooring as she sauntered towards the bar to grab a glass of champagne. Artists of all kinds blew smoke into the room and it filtered through light conversation that jumbled together into a loud discord. Therese found herself in a little group of artists and businessmen. Generally, you would consider them people of note but she was just listening and replying here and there, not truly being present. She laughed lightly at the jokes being made and nodded along with the conversation. The emptiness she hadn’t felt since she left New York came back again and her mind kept going back to those places she had left. The night had been getting dull and her thoughts got more and more sombre along with it. She felt a tap on her shoulder then and turned to find a beautiful face staring expectantly at her. It was a woman, blonde, with dark eyes and in a blue cocktail dress; she was clearly someone of note as the conversation of the group quickly turned towards her. Therese didn’t recognise her. She expertly navigated through the questions being thrown at her but kept her eyes on Therese. Therese sipped at her champagne and excused herself. Needing some silence, she found an open balcony and went to lean against its railing.

“Not a fan of the crowds?” A voice came from behind her. Therese turned to see the same blonde woman.

“Just more of a fan of solitude.” Therese gave her a tight smile.

“That’s interesting.” She watched the woman appraise her and then approach her confidently.

“Tell me a little bit about yourself.” The woman asked and mirrored Therese’s stance against the railing.

“What do you wanna know?” A gulp of champagne followed the question.

“Anything. Where did you work before this?”

“I designed the sets for Swan Lake for the American Ballet Theatre in New York. They are currently finishing up its run in New York. You may have seen something online or in the papers.”

“Well, aren’t you impressive?” She felt impressive.

“Oh am I?” Therese watched the woman adjust her arms and set her hands on her hips. Her eyes appraised Therese once again. Therese finally looked straight into them.

She knew that look. These advances were once foreign to her but now she understood them completely. Now they were so obvious, she wondered how she had ever missed them. The woman was pretty enough, her body was slight yet curvy and she carried herself with an easiness that was refreshing. She wouldn’t have garnered a reaction any other time Therese thought. Had this been the first time Therese encountered such advances from a woman, Therese would never have felt anything. It would’ve been a passing conversation, which she would have liked to have forgotten but would revisit in her memory time and time again. She thought of Carol, how just the sight of her had awoken her completely. Maybe she would still be numb to those feelings if she hadn’t met Carol. She let herself think of her in that moment and let herself feel the ache she was in. She thought of Carol’s eyes, her hair, and the line that went down from her shoulder to her legs. Dancing with such conviction and story in her movements. The image of a pale flower shimmering in stage lights. But now the image was blurry, uncertain. She thought of the things people said about her, what the dancers spoke sometimes in hushed whispers but sometimes out loud with no reprimand.

She thought of Carol.

This time with a twist of resentment, like a distant spot of silence and stillness.

Chapter Text


“Yes, I am back in town. Yeah, of course, I’ll be there.”

Therese abruptly had to leave Chicago a few weeks prior to her actual return. To her delight, the ballet went phenomenally. She had managed to make a lasting impression on the producers and the community in Chicago and was potentially looking at another production there that would take up her entire summer. Unfortunately, her lease had to be renewed and the owners of her apartment had asked her to be in New York to get their papers renewed, Therese thought of not going back and just staying in Chicago, maybe getting an apartment there. She had decided she would go back to New York for two weeks but not renew her lease and go back to Chicago, start a life there. In just a few days shy of a week back in New York, Therese got a call asking her to be a part of the Giselle production happening in spring. Therese was ecstatic. If the Chicago job came through, she would have work all through the first half of the year.

She hung up the phone and went to gather her stuff. The day was bright, the last notes of winter were leaving the air and the onslaught of spring was near. Therese took a taxi to the studio where the appointment was to be held. It was a regular dance studio; a modern looking building though Therese didn’t pay much attention, too focused on getting her appointment done and over with. She walked into the studio and saw familiar surroundings. The big wall to wall mirrors, the railings along it, the wooden panel flooring, the empty steps towards the back where the dancers sat, it all felt comforting to her. She walked towards the middle of the room; there were only two other people in the large room but it didn’t feel empty. One ballerina was sat on the floor with her back to Therese, stretching her legs and lacquering her shoes while the other stood nearby, laughing about something with her. She watched the one standing wave a small goodbye to the other ballerina and walk towards the exit; Therese suddenly felt awkward standing in a room with just one other stranger. The stranger turned, a smile still lingering on her face. Therese could recognise that anywhere.

“Carol?”

Her face shot up. Therese saw it alter with surprise and then a soft smile set on her lips. Carol was thinner now, her face seemed softer to Therese. Her eyes were kind in the way that they crinkled at the sides and squinted slightly due to the smile on her lips, in the way that grey reflected the warm light filling the room. Therese noticed that her hands still moved, bending and massaging her feet despite Carol’s attention being somewhere else. She had forgotten that about her. She had forgotten her passion, her kindness. What she had remembered was people’s words about her and she had found them mirroring her own thoughts. Therese felt guilty.

“Therese. I didn’t even know that was you at first.” Therese saw Carol appraise her; it set a dull ache in Therese’s chest.

“God you look amazing. How have you been?”

Therese said nothing. She set her bag down on the floor and sat down a few feet away from Carol.

“Do you hate me, Therese?” Carol asked her.

Therese looked away. She could smell Carol’s perfume faintly. While the sweet, cinnamon smell was familiar, it didn’t elicit the same reaction as before.

“No. How could I hate you?” Therese saw it on Carol’s face; she was going to contest it.

“How’s Rindy?” Therese spoke before Carol could reply. Carol’s eyebrows shot up at the question, her mouth curled into a frown for a bit.

“She’s living with Harge right now. The full custody appeal is still being considered so till we reach an agreement, she lives with him.” Therese looked into grey eyes again. They were proud as ever but wistful as if mourning the loss of something dear.

Those eyes were still beautiful and so was Carol, she thought. Therese looked away.

“Abby tells me you are thriving. You have no idea how proud I am of you” Carol smiled at her, disarming as ever.

“I saw the poster. For Swan Lake.” Therese said. Carol looked at her with a curious expression but didn’t stop her. Therese told her everything, how the poster looked to her, what happened in Chicago, of her nightmares about owls and her dancing, her own voice was flat and uninterested.

But Carol listened; though desperate to help she knew she couldn’t.

“Strange. Horrifying.” Was all she said.

Silence fell upon them, one that was strangely uncomfortable. That was something unfamiliar to Therese on its own.

“You are not here for me are you?” Carol asked though she didn’t look at her.

“No. We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” Therese smiled.

She heard Carol laugh then and the room suddenly changed. They weren’t in some bright dance studio anymore. They were back at the practice hall in the old studio, with the piano in the corner and with the darkness of the night outside. Sharing a grapefruit and laughing. Therese suddenly remembered the music box she fixed that was carefully wrapped in wax paper and kept at her apartment. She would’ve given it to Carol as a Christmas gift. Therese thought of how Christmas had come and gone, both of their lives separate from each other in a way Therese would’ve never imagined while fixing that box. Maybe this was what was going to remain of the both of them, old memories and a few stolen laughs. Therese felt the ache in chest deepen, an old longing come back in dull phases. They didn’t talk for the rest of the time they were there. Therese got done with her appointment by lunch just as promised, she came out and Carol wasn’t in the studio anymore. Therese felt a deep sense of loss; she ignored it and went on her way to meet Dannie for a drink.

Therese entered their favourite bar. The same rush of warm air ruffled her hair and then came the great smell of wooden furniture and greasy food, just like before. Therese felt nostalgia wash over her, she felt silly for feeling so since she’d only been away for a few months but there was an odd comforting familiarity in the place that truly brought Therese back to New York. She saw Dannie in a booth on the far side, along the long glass window. As she got closer to the booth, Dannie looked up from his phone. He immediately stood up and embraced Therese.

“Therese! Oh my god! Where have you been?” Therese couldn’t help but feel giddy, meeting Dannie after so long furthered her nostalgia.

“Oh, you know just here and there. How about you? How has the PhD been coming?” Therese took her seat, turning her head to see the specials for today on the chalkboard above the bar.

“Well I have an internship coming up in California this summer, I’m leaving in a few weeks.” Dannie puffed his chest out in mock arrogance, his delight at saying the words evident in his smile.

“Dannie! That’s amazing!” Therese wanted to hug him again but instead settled on grabbing his hands and giving them a squeeze.

“It is. You should come visit me there, stay a little while.” He gave her a bright smile, one Therese knew he used to charm whoever caught his fancy at the bar. Therese knew about Dannie’s feelings toward her. She never reciprocated but Dannie was a good enough guy to never feel bitter about it.

“We’ll see. Maybe not just yet.” Therese gave him a smile back and leant back into the booth. The waiter came by and Therese quickly placed her order.

“Chicago has done you well, you know? It’s like you are a different person now.”

Therese smiled at that. She felt different and it filled her with a sense of pride. She didn’t say anything beyond that. Her food arrived and they went along with their meal, catching up, talking about work, friends.

“Oh, did any mail arrive for me?” Therese took a swing of her beer.

“Shit, I almost forgot. I ran into Carol at your apartment one day. She asked about where you were, she had been there a few times before I guess. She dropped off this letter.” Dannie spoke casually, distracted by rummaging through his bag for the letter. Dannie pushed it towards Therese across the table.

“Do you mind if I go to the ladies room?” Dannie gave her a shrug and Therese rushed out of her seat, shoving her letter in her purse.

She escaped through the service exit in the back; she didn’t know why she was so anxious to read the letter or even why she was reading it in the first place. She couldn’t deny that seeing Carol had shaken her resolve. She had been thinking about her since she saw her. Therese ripped open the letter and unfolded the paper.


Dearest,

You probably think it’s silly of me to write to you but I doubt you’d answer calls or my texts. To be frank, even I don’t know why I am writing to you, maybe putting these thoughts to paper makes them feel more real, more tangible.

I need to explain myself. I left you in the dark and for that I’m sorry. For what all had happened, there was no other option. You were always so proud of us, so proud of who you are and who you were are to me. You wouldn’t have taken heard the first word of what they had to say for me. Tony said that he wouldn’t have me perpetuating the stereotypes he had fought so hard to destroy. Harge said he wanted a strong figure for his daughter, not some floozy who couldn’t even hold a job. The therapists said things just as well. You would tell me they don’t matter but I’m afraid my darling they do, or so I thought. They have been brought into this world and made to believe that they run it and the times it doesn’t work their way it brings out the worst in them. They talk about what I should and shouldn’t do, my duties, my actions like a report, sometimes they may go on to suggest they would “revisit” this topic 6 months later. I understand they don’t want me to see you. It offends them, I think, that a fairly attractive woman is unavailable to them. Or that she can hold her own in the world. They threaten me with my own daughter and they threaten me with you. So I sank to their level and I behaved, god knows I thought I was protecting you or doing something noble by being the obedient wife so that I could then play the role of the selfless mother. You know I am neither of those things. I tried to gamble but I failed. (I still don’t know how to play uno.)

 

Therese felt the corners of her mouth turn, deeply contrasted with the furrow in her brow and the churning in her stomach. She remembered fondly the time she had brought uno cards along with her on a practice night. They had given up after an hour of trying to teach Carol how to play and spent the rest of the night laughing and laughing and laughing. She remembered how light her heart felt that night. Therese closed her eyes and breathed in.

 

I fear I’ve pushed you away. I’ve done the one thing I never dreamed of doing. I’ve hurt you. It kills me to know this but I have. I haven’t been very happy these days my sweet. I hadn’t expected this sadness after the happy days I spent with you. I suspect you’ve found your own and moved on. Abby tells me I shouldn’t send this, because of reasons I already know; that you are young and adore me so but I know you better than she does and I feel you know me better than she does in some ways too. It’s the closeness between our souls that makes it so (or so the poets would say) and I find myself missing the closeness to you. To your soul. I yearn for that closeness, to experience it once again, to cherish it like I stupidly neglected to do once before. Maybe I will never get the chance to but I can dream. You taught me to hope for a better sunrise. Even if I know it’s the same damn sun that will grace the horizon, you taught me to wish upon the same star for something different and better every day. For that I’m grateful. Whoever earns the privilege to stay with you, to revel in your beauty, your intelligence, your compassion is truly lucky. I’m afraid luck never works out for me darling. I’ve messed up before but never this much. I’ve been stupid before but never this much. I’ve been in love before but never this much. I’m sorry Therese. Oh god I love you so much and I am sorry.

 

Therese stopped reading, feeling out of breath. Breath came in short pants, in time with her fast beating heart. Her eyes immediately fell on the last few lines of the letter.

 

I hope I find the words one day to tell you how I ache for you. How I need you. How I want you to be with me. But would you darling? Would you stay if I asked you to?

 

Therese immediately reached for her phone and dialled the number without thinking.

“Hello? Therese?” Carol’s voice was clear.

Therese couldn’t speak; she just stayed on the line and listened to Carol’s breathing, slow and deliberate. She matched their breaths and felt herself calm. She heard familiar sounds behind Carol, the tapping of feet, the sweet music of a distant piano. She knew Carol where was. Therese cut the line and exhaled. She wiped at her eyes and checked her face in her phone screen before going back into the bar.

Therese sat across Dannie for the next half hour. They hugged goodbye on the sidewalk and she found herself conflicted. She knew she could follow Dannie and he would receive her with open arms but to her, Dannie was a blank screen, an end without a beginning, she quickly knew that latter was never an option. He was great company, someone to cherish and hold but he would never be more than that. She thought of Genevieve and that woman at the party in Chicago, she thought how they could’ve meant something more to her and that maybe somebody else like them would come along and maybe they would build something more meaningful than half a conversation and some flirting. The thought felt repulsive to her, she found no appeal in chasing a pavement for the rest of her life hoping to find her destination.

She knew her destination. A future with Carol was uncertain, that she knew. She couldn’t even predict how this night would end let alone a life with her. Being with Carol was a free fall Therese had never expected. It was a leap off a bottomless cliff but nothing had ever felt so liberating, so right. They had changed; the both of them and only time would tell if they had a future together beyond this one evening. Therese wanted to find out where their souls met and how far along they went; she felt a yearning to know where they would stand in the next ten years. Yes, a future with Carol was built on questions but Therese knew that she wanted answers to all of them. She started to run down the sidewalk, shooting her arm out to hail a taxi.

She slipped into the studio without listening to the receptionist’s protest. She made her way past the dressing rooms, doing her usual routine of following the music. She saw Carol practising, to music that Therese had not heard. Therese smiled as she saw Carol now, spinning slowly on one leg, it was to strengthen the arch of her feet; Therese remembered that. When she was done, Carol would kick her feet, take a jump and end with a flourish, Therese remembered that as well and it filled her with a certain excitement.

“Ask me if I will stay.” Therese said.

Then Carol saw Therese, her feet fumbled. Therese watched Carol’s eyes wildly search her face for something, maybe for the context of what she said or maybe for some kind of answer and then suddenly her eyes were exuberant. Carol stopped and set her feet down with a thud. They didn’t move in the moments that followed; both of them standing at two ends of a straight path, would they survive if they collided?

“I love you.” Carol was somehow breathless. Therese’s heart took a leap.

Therese moved forward swiftly and took Carol into her arms. She felt her strong figure melt against her and go slack. She made a conscious effort to hold Carol tighter because she was sure they both would crumble to the floor otherwise. Carol’s hands were in Therese’s hair, burying her head closer into the crook of her neck. Therese heard Carol reverently repeat I miss you into her scalp. Therese pulled back but didn’t let go of Carol.

“Come with me?” Carol found her strength and asked. Therese nodded and Carol let out a short, incredulous laugh as if she was shocked at Therese’s reply.

Carol drove them back. Neither of them spoke, in that moment words were useless. More so there was no time to encompass it all. There was uncertainty, excitement, fear, joy, relief, anger, all these emotions could not be mentioned at once, no amount of time in that small space of Carol’s car would allow them to work through those questions, those feelings. That was for the times to come, the days they had together or didn’t have together.

As they reached her front door, Carol fumbled with her keys and swore softly under her breath. She let Therese in first, Therese took in the stillness of the apartment but she couldn’t bring herself to focus. All she could focus on was the closeness of Carol behind her. She turned and put her hands on Carol’s shoulders. Staring straight into her eyes, she walked them backwards till she felt Carol’s back softly hit the door. Therese leant up and forward and slowly pressed her lips to Carol’s. The kiss was dizzying, the feel of each other after so long let all their pent up desire and longing free, it made Therese feel alive again. Carol’s hands unfroze from her sides and ghosted along Therese’s back. It was a questioning touch and Therese squeezed Carol’s shoulders to tell her to continue. Therese felt Carol’s tongue slide along her bottom lip and then she felt Carol’s long fingers in her hair, her short nails raking against her scalp. Therese tilted her head to the side to take Carol’s tongue into her mouth. The grip in her hair got tighter and she heard a slight moan come from Carol. Therese ripped herself away from Carol then, their ragged breathing filling the still apartment walls. Carol took the hint and immediately grabbed Therese’s hand and led her to the bedroom. Therese watched Carol pull her own shirt over her head, desire burning in her just at the sight of Carol’s skin, her defined muscles moving as she flung the shirt away. Therese came towards Carol and wrapped her arms around her neck, pulling her in for another kiss. This kiss was hungry and hot; Therese lost when her bra was undone and when she was led to sit on the bed in that kiss. She watched Carol take off her own trousers and underwear before come to her and started to undress her. Once naked, Therese laid on her back and Carol kissed her way up from Therese’s ankle to her thigh and then crawled on top her, Therese felt the bed sink against both their weight and the strong feel of Carol’s body against her. Their mouths met again, making the wetness between Therese’s thighs grow. They were hurried and hungry, a clash of spit and teeth. Carol pulled back from Therese’s mouth and dragged the tip of her tongue down Therese’s neck. She sat up and pushed the hair back from her face, pausing to admire Therese’s naked form beneath her. Therese watched her take her in; there was reverence in those eyes that made Therese’s heart full. She saw something change in Carol’s expression and noticed breathing suddenly grow heavier.

Carol then leant back down to trail her lips down Therese’s body. Therese felt her hot breath and the slight touch of her lips start their journey down from the top of her neck, sending shivers down her whole body. She felt Carol press a kiss to her stomach and let out a whimper. Therese felt Carol then press her forehead there. There was a drop of warmth that pooled in the valley of her stomach and slid off her waist to then stain the mattress. Carol stayed like that, with her head pressed against Therese’s stomach and her hot tears mingling with soft skin. Therese heard her whimpering into her skin,

“I’m sorry.. I’m so sorry… oh god forgive me.. please forgive me…”

Her voice was shaky and desperate. It quickly became too much for Therese. She couldn’t imagine Carol, her strong Carol, so broken, begging for someone’s forgiveness, let alone hers. Therese put her hands on the side of Carol’s head and urged her up towards herself.

“Shh… stop.” Therese spoke softly, pulling Carol up her body.

“Please forgive me,” Carol whispered.

Therese then pressed her lips to Carol’s, an assurance. She felt Carol’s hands latch themselves to her wrists as if she was hanging onto them for support.

“You’re trembling.” Therese pulled back to say.

She wrapped her arms and legs around Carol and turned them to their side. She firmly kissed her once more. Carol looked up at her,

“I love you.” Tears came back to Carol’s eyes but this time Therese didn’t let them fall.

Therese kissed her, fully. Sliding her tongue into her mouth. Her hands travelled down between their bodies, stopping to place light lingering touches to Carol’s belly before slipping into warm wetness beyond short blonde curls. Therese stared into Carol’s eyes as she entered her with two fingers,

“I love you. And you cannot leave me like that again.” Therese captured Carol’s mouth once more.

Her fingers found their familiar rhythm once more. Carol arched and gasped as Therese used her thumb with circle Carol’s clit and gather wetness. Therese thrust her tongue deep into Carol’s mouth and rolled her hips along with the steady pace of her hand. Carol’s moans were muffled by Therese’s mouth, only a few moments later Carol came quietly, collapsing into Therese’s arms. They stayed like that, kissing till their lips felt bruised. Kissing for all the time they wanted to but found each other far away, kissing for all the pain it caused them. Even after they stopped, they clung onto each other, wrapped in each other’s arms. They were content to stay like that for a comfortable eternity.