Nolan got to class early, taking her usual spot at the front of the barre, and started stretching. First she put her right foot in front of her on the barre and leaned over, feeling the stretch down her right hamstring as her nose touched her knee. Then she turned her standing leg and bent to the side over her leg, stretching her arm overhead. Finally, she let her leg down, swinging her leg forward and back to loosen up her hip, and switched to the other side.
As she limbered up, she watched the rest of the class drift into the studio. She kept an eye on the clock on the wall as she fidgeted with the wide straps of her black leotard, waiting to see how close TK would cut it this time. Two minutes before class was set to start, TK scooted into the studio and hurried to the spot next to Nolan at the barre. She was wearing a dark purple leotard with spaghetti straps and black tights with a seam up the back. The waistband of her tights was folded down over her narrow hips and the feet of her tights were rolled up over her ankles.
“You made it,” Nolan said quietly, grabbing the arch of her foot and extending her leg in front of her face and then to the side. She bent forward so her hip joint popped and then she let her leg down.
TK pulled one long black leg warmer over her right leg and checked the ribbons on her pointe shoes. “I’m here, relax,” she said with a smile, a lock of her hair falling out of her ponytail into her face.
“Here,” Nolan said, pulling a bobby pin out of her bun and handing it to TK. She always used extra because this always happened.
“You’re the best, babe” TK said, smiling and taking the bobby pin. Nolan melted just a little, happy to help her best friend, happy to be needed. If there was something else behind those feelings, Nolan tucked that away for another time.
“Ladies,” Claudia said, clapping her hands sharply as she went over to the stereo to start the music. “First position.”
The class snapped into position and started the barre exercises, pliés first.
“Some of you look a little rusty,” Claudia said slyly as she passed TK at the barre. Claudia’s slim shoulders were back and her long wrap skirt fluttered behind her as she walked down the barre, eyeing the dancers as she went.
Nolan turned to see TK rolling her eyes.
“It’s almost like you have better things to do than take class,” Claudia continued as she walked slowly, stopping to adjust Carter’s turnout. “It’s almost like auditions are coming up and you’re not concerned about where you’re going this summer.”
When they turned to the other side, Nolan hissed, “She’s pissed about winter break.”
“I know,” TK hissed back as she sank into a grand plié. “I know about auditions. What does she want me to do.”
“I want,” Claudia shouted from the other side of the studio, “for you to be as dedicated to your talent as I am, Ms. Konecny. Is that too much to ask?”
“No, Ms. Giroux,” TK mumbled as she bent forward at the waist and then back, her port de bras sharp where it should be graceful.
“See me after class. You too, Ms. Patrick.”
“Yes, ma’am,” TK and Nolan said together, giving each other looks as they moved to tendus.
Nolan loved ballet class, had loved it ever since she started taking classes at 3 years old. She loved how every class was the same, the same sequences of exercises in the same order. Whatever was happening at home, whatever had been swirling in her brain at school all day, when she arrived at Level 5 class at 7pm every night, her mind switched to white noise as she moved her body in the familiar movements. Some people meditated. Nolan had ballet to quiet her mind.
They were still out of breath from grand allegro, barely recovered despite doing reverence, when Claudia ushered the rest of the class out of the studio and shut the door, turning her gaze onto Nolan and TK.
“Ladies,” Claudia sighed, “I want to talk to you.”
Nolan nodded. TK was picking at her nails and looking down.
“I need your focus,” Claudia said, snapping her fingers so that TK would look up at her. Claudia's blue eyes were blazing with intensity. “Thank you. You’re aware that Level 5 will be doing Act II of Giselle for our year-end recital. I want to talk to you about casting.”
Nolan cut her eyes over to TK. “I thought casting wasn’t coming out until next week.”
“Officially, yes,” Claudia said. She pulled her auburn hair out of its usual elegant low chignon and shook it out until it fell in curls around her shoulders. “It’s been decided that you’re doing Giselle, Nolan. And you,” she inclined her head toward TK, “are doing Myrtha and will understudy Giselle.”
Nolan’s mouth fell open. “What about Shayne? And Sean?”
TK elbowed Nolan in the side. “Shut up,” she whispered.
“They’re seniors,” Nolan pointed out.
“You’re better than them!” TK insisted.
“Ladies,” Claudia sighed again. “I need you to display more emotional maturity if I’m going to trust you with these roles. I need your entire focus here. No missed classes. No missed rehearsals. If you’re going to lead this company for the next few years, I need 100 percent from both of you.”
Nolan looked over at TK with wide eyes and TK shrugged her shoulders. “Okay,” Nolan said. She shifted her gaze down to her pointe shoes as she shifted from foot to foot, stretching out her arches like she did when she was nervous.
“Ms. Konecny? Can I count on you?”
TK smoothed the straps of her leotard over her shoulders and shrugged, cocky smile on her face. “Sure.”
“Fine, go home. Enjoy your weekend. It’s the last free one you’ll have for a while.”
“Sean's going to flip when she finds out,” TK said later that night, looking into her makeup mirror. On the other end of the Facetime call, Nolan watched TK pluck her eyebrows, ready to stop her in case she went overboard again. “Remember when we were ten and that girl from New York moved to town-”
“Amanda,” Nolan interrupted.
“Yeah, Amanda, and Claudia cast her as Clara even though Sean thought it was her year?” TK looked at the screen and her eyes were bright. “That Nutcracker, Sean ended up in the battle scene and her mom threatened to pull her out of the school?”
“I remember,” Nolan said, laying her head down on her forearms. She was lying on her bed in her pajamas, her legs kicked up behind her. “I’m more worried about Shayne.”
“Shayne'll be fine. She’s going to college,” TK scoffed, examining her pores in the makeup mirror. “Wanna sleep over tomorrow? We can watch my Giselle DVDs again.”
“Yeah, okay,” Nolan said, rolling over onto her back and scooting over until her legs were pointed straight up the wall next to the bed. “I’ll have my dad drop me off after he gets back from my brother’s soccer game.”
“Did you tell your parents about the part?”
"No way,” Nolan said. “My mom’s still freaking out about summer program tuition, so we’re not talking about ballet right now.”
“My mom keeps leaving college brochures around, like doesn’t she know I have all Cs?” TK grumbled.
“You should tell her about the part then, convince her that you have a chance of making it.”
“You still need an education,” TK said in a mocking impression of her mother. She looked at Nolan’s upside-down face on the screen and sighed. “I think only you get me.”
“It’s you and me, babe,” Nolan said, swinging her legs down and reaching for her phone. “See you tomorrow night.”
Nolan walked into TK's house, dragging her overnight bag behind her into the hallway and dropping it by the pile of shoes. “Teeks?” she called before starting up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
The door to TK's room was open and Nolan found her lying on her bed in her underwear and a tank top, legs spread in a straddle as she stretched. Nolan was used to seeing TK like this - her lean body on display in a leotard, abs flat and her legs all sculpted muscle. She was wearing a pair of headphones and humming along to the music tunelessly.
“Hello,” Nolan said, waving her hand in front of TK's face. TK pulled out the headphones. “Where’s your mom?”
“Having a girls’ night with some other wine moms,” TK grumbled. “She’s so lame.” TK got up and grabbed Nolan’s hand to lead her down to the kitchen to get snacks before they headed to the tv room in the basement to watch ballet DVDs.
“Do you have any of that hummus?” Nolan asked. She had pulled a bag of baby carrots out of the crisper and was rooting around in the fridge.
“Ugh, healthy crap,” TK said. She reached past Nolan’s head for a tube of cookie dough. “It’s in the bottom drawer. Chips are in the cabinet.”
They carried the snacks down to the basement and piled them on the floor in front of the big tv. TK picked up a handful of DVDs from the floor and fanned them out in her hand. “ABT, Bolshoi, or Royal Ballet?”
“ABT, of course,” Nolan said. “Are you going to put pants on?” she gestured toward TK with a baby carrot.
“What?” TK said with a smile, turning to shake her ass in Nolan’s face. “You don’t appreciate this?”
“I see your ass all the time, thanks,” Nolan said. She tried to lean around TK to see the screen but TK was still shimmying in front of her, laughing. For friends who spent most of their time together in leotards, Nolan should have been used to TK's casual exhibitionism by now. Nolan was familiar with TK's body, every inch of it, how it moved. Even so, sometimes she wished that she didn’t have to see the gentle curve where TK's ass connected to the top of her thigh or the cuts in her abdomen right above the line of her underwear up close all the time like this. It made her stomach feel funny sometimes.
“Fine,” TK said. She stomped over to the laundry basket by the washing machine and pulled out a pair of athletic shorts. “You’re such a prude.”
“Not flashing my vagina all the time is me being a prude, okay,” Nolan said. She picked up the remote and started the DVD.
“You wish I flashed you my vadge,” TK grumbled as she shoved a handful of chips into her mouth. “Also I’ve seen your tits like a thousand times.”
Nolan barked out a laugh. "At least I have tits," she said. "They're double-A's but at least it's something."
"I have them, see?" TK joked. She used her upper arms to push her chest in on itself, creating fake cleavage out of nothing, before frowning and letting go. "I'm gonna be flat-chested forever."
“Hush,” Nolan said. She fast forwarded through the first act of the ballet and pressed play when the curtain rose for the start of the second act. “That’s gonna be you,” Nolan whispered when Myrtha appeared on stage right.
TK sighed happily and leaned in to watch more closely.
“It’s really just Myrtha for like five whole minutes,” Nolan said.
“Do you think I’ll get to wear a crown like that?” TK looked over at Nolan with wide eyes, a delighted smile on her face.
“The biggest one we have,” Nolan smiled back.
"God, babe," TK said. She scooted closer next to Nolan on the floor, wrapping her arms around Nolan's narrow waist and putting her head in Nolan's shoulder. "I can't believe we get to do this."
"I know," Nolan said. TK's curly hair was tickling her nose so she reached over to smooth her hair down and left her hand resting on the side of TK's face.
They watched in rapt silence as the willis joined Myrtha on stage. By the time the willis were hopping across the stage in the iconic arabesque sequence, Nolan and TK had gotten on their feet to join them. They danced across the basement along with the ABT corps, ending the scene with arabesque fouettes and a dramatic flourish of their arms.
Out of breath, they collapsed in a pile to watch the next scene ("You’re running around like you lost your dog, Albrecht, you useless fuck!" TK yelled at the screen) and eat cookie dough out of the tube. By the time Giselle emerged from behind her grave, half of the cookie dough was gone and TK was lying with her head in Nolan’s lap.
“That’s gonna be you,” TK twisted to look up at Nolan when Giselle started her solo with a slow developé into an arabesque promenade on one side, and then a developé into an arabesque pencheé on the other.
“She’s so steady, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do that,” Nolan whispered. “God, and the partnering is so hard. Look how smooth she makes every movement.”
“Oh, I know!” TK jumped up. “My mom has these ankle weights she uses for aerobics. We should put them on our wrists and practice the port de bras.” She started rifling through a basket of workout equipment by the treadmill in the corner of the basement.
“You’re a genius,” Nolan said. She took a pair of the weights from TK and velcroed them to her wrists. “Rewind to the start of the solo.”
“Okay,” TK said. She rewound the DVD and stood next to Nolan. They started the solo together, trying not to tip each other over as they each extended their right legs out to the side with their arms held overhead. “This is going to be awesome.”
"What do you think'll happen at auditions?" TK whispered into the dark in her bedroom later that night. TK was asking about auditions for American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Intensive - an eight-week pre-professional program for young dancers, held each summer in New York City.
TK was burrowed under the covers in her bed and Nolan was sprawled out on top of the comforter next to her. This was where they ended up almost every Saturday night during the school year. After morning class and afternoon rehearsal, Nolan would go to TK's house and sleep over in her queen-sized bed. In the morning, TK's mom would drop them off at the studio for a full day of rehearsal.
Nolan knew that people at school made fun of her for never going to football games and not having friends at school. But she spent so much time at ballet - classes six days a week, all weekend in rehearsals - that she had never had a regular high school life. She had TK, and they spent Saturday nights together watching ballet videos, gossiping about their ballet friends, and eating snacks.
“Probably like the Pennsylvania Ballet auditions last year,” Nolan said, turning over to pillow her head on her right arm and look at TK.
“Nah, we knew half of the people there,” Travis said, turning to look at Nolan. “ABT is different. It’s moving away for two months. It’s the big time.”
“We’ll know a lot of people at the ABT audition,” Nolan responded, poking TK's shoulder. “It’s in Philadelphia. Half our company is going.”
“I heard that Carter’s going to the New York audition because she thinks it has better energy.”
Nolan snorted. “She would.” She rolled onto her back and sighed. “Do you think they’ll tell us in the room if we get in?”
“No, they send a letter,” TK said. “And you can get sent to the New York program or the second tier program in Arkansas.”
“What if I get sent to Arkansas,” Nolan muttered.
TK turned over onto her stomach. “What if I don’t get sent anywhere,” she mumbled into her pillow. “I’ll never convince my mom to let me audition for companies after graduation if I can’t even get into ABT’s summer program.”
“We’re going together,” Nolan said sleepily, reaching for TK's hand and interlocking their fingers. “You and me, babe.”
“You and me,” TK said, squeezing her hand and letting go as she fell asleep.
“Where’s Jamie?” TK asked. She was hunched against the barre while the company gathered for rehearsal. Nolan fidgeted with her long leg warmers.
“Didn’t you hear?” Carter leaned toward them. “She was pissed about casting and wanted to go to her senior prom, so she’s not doing the spring ballet.”
“Lame,” TK said. “We’ve already been rehearsing for three weeks.” She straightened up when Claudia came into the studio and shut the door behind her.
“Ladies,” Claudia said, clapping her hands sharply to get everyone’s attention. “We’ve been working separately on Act II but I’d like to run it from Myrta’s entrance up to Albrecht. Then I’ll work with the Giselles on the solos from later in the act. We’ll do the full huntsman scene next week when Jake is here but we might mark through the corps choreography later if we have time. Okay?”
Everyone nodded and TK took her place on the right side of the studio. Nolan grabbed the flowers from Claudia and placed them by where TK was standing, stopping briefly to squeeze TK’s shoulder.
Nolan sat on the floor by the mirror on the front wall and bent forward into a straddle to stretch. She smiled at TK, who looked nervous, fidgeting with the ribbons on her pointe shoes as the music started. Nolan gave her a slow nod and took a deep breath in and out, hoping that TK would see and relax her shoulders. They had practiced this intro part - Myrta alone on stage for long minutes before she summoned the willis for their nightly dance - and TK knew the steps by heart. But now, with the entire company watching her as the music started, TK looked less like a spectral queen and more like a nervous girl on the first day of school.
"Gentle, graceful, Ms. Konecny," Claudia sang at her as TK picked up the flowers and gestured sharply around the stage with them. "Take your time, you're the queen. We'll all wait for you."
TK nodded and exhaled a short breath, shaking out her hands before the most challenging part of the sequence - the arabesque held for a long moment at center stage. If she lost focus or wobbled, the spell she was supposed to be casting on the audience would be broken, her reign found false, artificial.
Nolan could see the intense look of concentration on TK’s face as she got into position, every muscle in her arms rippling and her core tight. Nolan was used to TK’s body and its athletic lines, but she could still be surprised by how graceful TK could be. She held the arabesque, her bottom foot rocking slightly as she tried to stay in position until the moment was over and she could fling the flowers she was holding away. TK finished strong with the diagonal jumping sequence and the fast pique turns that she loved so much, her head turning and her arms cutting through the air as she turned, until she finally came to rest by Giselle’s grave.
TK shot Nolan a quick questioning look and Nolan smiled back, hoping that TK would be satisfied but knowing that instead she’d spend the rest of the rehearsal mulling over what she had done wrong.
Claudia sighed, her mouth set in a line. "Let's continue with the rest of the scene, we'll work on this later."
Nolan could see TK fighting her emotions, the disappointment plain on her face. She went over to her and hooked her arm around TK’s waist, steering her out of the studio to get a drink of water while the corps set up. “Good,” Nolan said, pouring a cup of water from the cooler in the corner of Claudia’s dark office and handing it to TK.
TK gulped down the water and crumpled the paper cup in her hand. “It wasn’t good, Nols, come on,” she moaned and flung the cup into the trash. “Now everyone knows I can’t do it. They were all watching and I sucked so bad!”
“No one was watching,” Nolan soothed her, pouring another cup of water and putting it in her hand. “Morgan spent the whole time freaking out about accidentally eating a carb at lunch.”
TK snorted and drank the second cup of water. “You’re just saying that,” she said, a small smile on her lips even as she tried to stay angry. “You know we’re going to have to stay after to work on that some more.”
“I would like nothing more,” Nolan said. She linked her arm with TK and they walked back into the studio together.
Over the next few weeks, Nolan and TK worked with Ivan and Jake, dancers from the local performing arts high school who were going to play Albrecht and the huntsman in Giselle. Nolan clicked with Ivan right away, his quiet intensity and warm hands relaxed her so that she could focus on her extensions and keeping her steps syrupy smooth. Nolan could feel Ivan’s steady pulse in his hands when she clasped them and she knew that she could trust him to show her off on lifts the way that he was supposed to.
Nolan loved the Giselle Act II pas de deux and she couldn’t stop running it through in her head even when she wasn’t in rehearsals. It was so long - between the slow partnered adagio, Giselle and Albrecht’s solos, and the coda when they came back together in a crescendo - that Nolan could spend twenty minutes without anything in her head but the music. She could take Ivan’s hand and just dance with him until everything fell away. Once she found that quiet in her head, once Ivan was so in sync with her that they were breathing as one unit, Nolan was free.
TK was paired with Jake, who would play the huntsman, so they could understudy Giselle and Albrecht. They shadowed Nolan and Ivan for long stretches in the afternoons, practicing the tricky partnering of their meeting early in the act and the slow graceful lifts of their pas de deux at the end of it. Nolan could see that their chemistry wasn’t as immediate, TK fighting Jake when he tried to adjust her positioning. But Jake was patient and TK seemed to settle in, relaxing into him for the dramatic port de bras and lighting up when he tossed her easily into the air on the lifts.
After a long session on a Saturday in late February, they went back to TK’s house and collapsed onto the floor of her bedroom. “Nolaaaaaan,” TK whined, her arm flung dramatically over her face, “I hurt all over.”
“Ugh, me too,” Nolan said. She moved the ice pack she was currently holding against her hip down her leg to the outside of her thigh. “I’m gonna have a bruise where Ivan dropped me. Can you believe him?”
“He was so sorry,” TK laughed. “You should have seen his face! He’s such a sweetheart.”
“He should watch his grips,” Nolan mumbled. “Do you want a pizza?”
Nolan ordered them dinner (including the cheesy bread TK demanded) and they ate in the basement in front of the tv while they watched the Bolshoi production of Giselle.
“Ugh,” TK said, lying back and wiping her greasy hands on the sleeve of Nolan’s sweatshirt. “I’m so bored. I can’t watch another minute of this ballet.”
“Do you want to watch something else?” Nolan asked. She reached over to put her unwanted pizza crust into TK’s open mouth.
“I want to do something other than ballet!” TK shouted through a mouth full of crust. She laid there for a moment, angrily chewing and staring up at the ceiling. “We should go out.”
“Where?” Nolan said. She turned off the tv and fiddled with the remote.
“We could go to parties but we’re always at class or rehearsals, or recovering from class or rehearsals,” TK grumbled.
“I did get invited to a party,” Nolan said quietly, her back to TK as she got up to clear away the plates and the pizza boxes.
“Oh?” TK said, rolling over and propping her head on her hand. “By who?”
Nolan shrugged and sat down on the floor next to TK. “My lab partner. There’s some party after the basketball game tonight.”
“We should go,” TK squealed, rolling onto her back. “Please, Nolan? Pleeeeeease?”
“I don’t know,” Nolan said. She looked down at her fingers and twisted them together. She never went to parties, never drank. TK’s parents weren’t even home so they could go wherever they wanted, but would it be a mistake?
In the end, TK got her way. They raided TK’s closet for cute tops to wear and got an Uber to a fancy development in Cherry Hill. When they climbed out of the backseat of the car, the party was already in full swing. All of the lights in the huge house were on and the front door was open, with teenagers spilling out onto the lawn, reveling in the unseasonably warm evening air..
“Wow, your lab partner lives in a mansion!” TK stage-whispered as they made their way up the front walk. “Is everyone at East a millionaire?”
“I’m not,” Nolan said with an eye roll. She fixed the strap of her tank top and tossed her hair over her shoulder. TK had insisted that she wear her hair down, curls cascading down her back. Now she was glad for it because the night air was cold on her bare shoulders.
“Okay, I have to pee so I’m going inside. You go see if you can find us drinks and we’ll meet back here in 5. Okay?” TK’s eyes were as bright as the sequins on her top in the light pouring out of the windows of the house. She looked beautiful, her dark hair a halo around her head and her eyes smokey with eyeliner.
Nolan could only nod and watch as TK threaded her way through the crowd into the house, her strong, lithe shoulders back and her ass in her tight pants drawing attention from a group of guys by the front door.
Nolan turned to see her lab partner, Kevin, walking toward her. He was wearing a throwback Sixers jersey and was holding a bottle of Titos Vodka. “Kevin, hi,” she smiled nervously.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he beamed back at her. “You usually don’t - I mean, you look really good.” He looked down at his feet and then back up at Nolan.
“Thanks,” Nolan said. “Your house is really nice. Or, the outside? Very nice, um, landscaping.” Nolan grimaced at her own awkwardness.
“Thanks, I’ll tell my dad after he kills me for having this party.” He took a drink from the bottle and held it out toward Nolan. “Want some?”
Nolan looked back toward the house, wondering where TK was. Nolan was supposed to be finding them drinks, so she guessed that she was doing her job and took the bottle from Kevin. “To third period bio,” she toasted before taking a drink.
Kevin laughed and took the bottle back, toasting her before he drank again. “So, no dance class tonight?”
Nolan shook her head and took the bottle so she could drink again. “No, we had rehearsal today but we’re done and we don’t have to go in tomorrow so we thought we’d-”
“We?” Kevin asked. Where was-
“Nols!” Nolan turned to see TK jumping off the front porch and launching herself down the lawn at her. She was holding two bottles of beer and spilling them all over the ground. “Oh, you found drinks too! Cool, I just did a keg stand inside, you missed it!” she babbled, elbowing her way between Nolan and Kevin.
“Teeks,” Nolan laughed. “How much did you-”
“Who’s this?” TK narrowed her eyes at Kevin, who was standing awkwardly where TK had pushed him away from Nolan.
“This is Kevin, my lab partner. And this is his vodka so,” Nolan said, trying to hand the bottle back to Kevin.
“Nah, keep it,” Kevin said. “I’ve got backup.” He pulled a flask from his back pocket and twisted off the cap. “Hi, I’m Kevin,” he said, offering the flask toward TK.
“TK,” she said, taking the flask. “Cool party.” Nolan noticed that TK was smiling brightly at Kevin and that she had put on a fresh coat of lipstick at some point. Kevin had his usual dopey smile on his face but Nolan couldn’t help but notice the way he was leaning in toward TK.
“We’re in ballet together,” Nolan interjected. She felt something unpleasant twist in her stomach and it made her want to stand between TK and Kevin, break the eye contact between them.
“Nolan is the star though,” TK smiled, bumping Nolan with her hip.
“Teeks,” Nolan dropped her head.
“She is,” TK said, tipsy and boasting about her friend. “She’s 100 times better than all of the other girls. We’re doing Giselle and she’s Giselle. The real deal.”
“Wow, so you’re really serious about ballet,” Kevin said. He had turned to look at Nolan with interest.
“We’re going to ABT this summer,” TK interjected again. Nolan tried to protest that they hadn’t even auditioned yet but TK grabbed her around the waist and shouted her down, pressing her face into Nolan’s neck and laughing as Nolan tried to push back against her. Nolan was dizzy from the vodka and the feel of TK’s body warm against hers. She twisted against TK until she ended up with her arms around TK, her front pressed against TK’s back, both of them breathless and giggling as Nolan rocked them back and forth.
Kevin was watching both of them, a curious smile on his face. “What do the guys you dance with do? Throw you up in the air?”
TK stepped away from Nolan and put her hands on her hips. “Partnering is more than that! We should try,” TK said to him. “You’re tall enough to do it.”
Nolan shook her head. “Teeks, I don’t think Kevin wants-”
“Let’s do it,” Kevin said, clapping his hands together like he was on the basketball court.
TK stood in front of him and placed his hands on her hips. “Now,” she instructed as she kicked her shoes off, “I’m going to do a pas de bourree and then a glissade and then the grand jeté.”
“Uh,” Kevn said, looking confused.
“It’s a few steps to the side and then a big jump,” Nolan supplied, trying not to focus on the way that Kevin’s fingers were brushing the bare skin of TK’s toned midriff where her top was riding up. “Just move to the right with her and then lift.”
“Okay, ready?” TK said, her arms out to the side. Before Kevin could respond, she was moving, her steps quick, and then she leapt into the jeté. Kevin tried to move with her but lost track, hoisting TK up too late and tipping her back toward him. Her legs flailed and she came down out of the jump clumsily.
“No, that’s not it at all,” Nolan pushed Kevin away and stood behind TK. “Ready?” she asked over TK’s shoulder, noticing through the haze of alcohol that there were goosebumps on TK’s pale skin. TK looked sideways at her and smiled, resuming the position. They moved into the pas de bourree together, gracefully floating across the lawn. In the glissade, Nolan moved her hands onto TK’s hips and pressed her palms against the back of her hip bones, lifting her into the jeté over her head. TK’s legs scissored open into a split, even in her tight jeans, and she landed gracefully, twirling with Nolan’s hands on her waist until Nolan pulled her close and tipped her back into a dip. With TK arched back in Nolan’s arms, TK’s hair brushing the ground, Nolan felt like she could so easily put her lips against TK’s throat. It would be so easy to kiss her there, to trail her tongue up to meet TK’s lips and taste her-
“Let me up you maniac,” TK shouted, laughing. Kevin was clapping and smiling at them, looking more than a little awed by their performance.
Nolan blushed and tucked her hair behind her ears. “Everyone’s looking,” she said quietly, hoping that no one noticed that she held TK against her for a moment too long.
“Hey, do you guys want to meet some people inside?” Kevin asked.
“Sure!” TK smiled brightly at him. Kevin and TK chatted easily as they walked into the house. Nolan was shaken but all she could do was follow them into the party.
“You brought a ringer to my party,” Kevin said as he came up to where Nolan was standing by the dining room table, which had been transformed into a beer pong table for the night. TK was playing with Kevin’s basketball teammates and was wowing them by sinking shot after shot.
“I had no idea she’s a beer pong savant!” Nolan laughed, watching TK and her beer pong partner high-five as they won the round. They set up for the next round and two more of Kevin’s teammates set up to oppose them. TK stood there placidly, sipping her drink. Right before the game started, she looked over at Nolan and winked.
“So are you two…?” Kevin asked, trailing off as he watched TK.
“Are we what? ” Nolan scoffed.
“Okay,” Kevin mumbled, looking confused. “I just thought...the way you look at her.”
Nolan was still staring at Kevin, his words echoing in her head, when TK bounded up and bumped Nolan with her shoulder, startling her.
“Hey, did you win?” Nolan asked with a false upbeat note to her voice.
“Undefeated, baby,” TK said, high-fiving Kevin. “Nols, come to the bathroom with me.” She took Nolan’s hand and dragged her toward the stairs. Nolan stared at TK’s hips swaying as she pushed through the party and climbed the stairs in front of her, threading her way through the upstairs hallway to a large bathroom at the end of the hall.
“Teeks, I don’t have to pee,” Nolan whined, not sure if she could bear being shut into a bathroom with TK without blushing so much that her face exploded. She wasn’t into TK. Sure, TK was beautiful and the funniest person Nolan knew, and her best friend, and her body was fucking sick, but Nolan wasn’t into her. Just because she hated the way that all the boys at the party were eyeing her, with her toned shoulders and sly smile, and just because Nolan was drunk and all she could think about was touching TK all over, all over, didn’t mean she was into her.
“Earth to Nolan,” TK snapped at Nolan’s reflection in the mirror. She had her lipstick out and was fussing with it. “I was saying that you make a pretty good partner, because you’re so tall. If anything happens to Ivan, I can do Giselle and you can partner me.”
Nolan stared at TK in the mirror, watching her touch up her eyeliner, her pink tongue teasing at the corner of her mouth while she did it.
TK turned to face her. “What is up with you?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” Nolan said, too forcefully, and then squeezed her eyes shut in embarrassment. Her head was pounding all of a sudden and the lights around the mirror were too bright. When she opened her eyes, TK was looking at her with a strange expression on her face.
“Nols,” she said quietly, craning up to touch her lips to Nolan’s, softly, while sliding her hand around Nolan’s back.
Nolan pulled back, her stomach flopping, to see TK’s eyes burning into her. Nolan leaned forward to kiss TK again, pushing her back against the counter and licking into her mouth, ignoring the voice in her pounding head that was telling her that she was too drunk.
TK pulled Nolan down to her, her hands tight on Nolan’s shoulders and then trailing down her back to grab her ass.
But Nolan was feeling too hot and had to get away from TK because she was about to throw up. She lunged across the bathroom toward the toilet and blacked out.
Nolan woke up the next morning in TK’s bed. Her mouth was dry and she immediately gulped down the Advil and Gatorade that had been left on the nightstand next to the bed.
TK wasn’t in bed and the door to her ensuite bathroom was open. Nolan got up, her legs a little unsteady, and went looking for her. She was only wearing panties and a bralette, so she crossed her arms over herself to stay warm as she wandered through TK’s quiet house, following the sound of splashing coming from the bathroom in TK’s parents’ bedroom.
She found TK in the jacuzzi bathtub, her hair piled into a knot on top of her head. There were bubbles foamed up all around her bare shoulders and she was whistling tunelessly.
“Hey,” Nolan said from the doorway.
“Hey,” TK smiled at her. “How ya feeling, babe?”
“Okay. Thanks for the Advil,” she said, padding toward TK and sitting on the edge of the tub. She dangled her hand into the water. “This your hangover cure?”
“Yeah,” TK said. She was in a suspiciously good mood. She usually hated mornings as much as Nolan did. “Get in with me.”
Nolan snorted and splashed TK. “No.”
“C’mon, water’s lovely,” TK said, flipping over in the water and coming over to pull on Nolan’s hand.
“Fine,” Nolan grumbled with a smile. She climbed into the tub in her underwear.
“You’re such a prude,” TK squealed. She scooted over so she was sitting in Nolan’s lap and leaning back along her body. “You’re supposed to be naked in the bathtub.”
“You’re supposed to be alone in the bathtub,” Nolan sassed back. She wrapped her arms around TK’s torso, resting her hands flat on TK’s stomach. She watched the bubbles lap over TK’s breasts and thought about how many times she had fallen asleep wrapped up close next to TK in her bed, all of the times they touched, the intimacy of ballet and their bodies. They had skinny-dipped in Nolan’s backyard pool and had rubbed icy hot on each other more times than Nolan could count. This wasn’t any different than any of those times, except Nolan knew they had crossed a line when they kissed the night before at the party.
“Hey Nols,” TK said, sitting up and turning to face her. “Do you remember last night?” She was biting her lip and she looked scared, like she did before she plastered on a smile and danced on stage.
“Yeah, Teeks, I remember. In the bathroom?” They were both whispering, their fingers tangling under the water, still hazy with sleep.
“Yeah,” TK smiled. She looked down and then up at Nolan through her eyelashes. “I thought you were drunk and maybe…,” she shrugged as she trailed off. She was leaning closer, one hand in Nolan’s and the other reaching up to brush against Nolan’s cheek.
“I was drunk,” Nolan whispered. She turned her head to kiss TK’s fingers. She touched TK’s collarbone, ghosting her touch down her chest and over her nipples, tight and hard above the line of the water.
TK was breathing faster, arching up into Nolan’s touch, leaning in with her lips parted, when her mom yelled from downstairs. “Travis? I’m home!”
Nolan pulled back and stood up quickly, reaching for a towel and bolting down the hallway toward TK’s room. Her face was burning and she was dripping bubbles all over the upstairs, but her instinct to get away from the bathtub - away from TK, her beautiful body in the water, away from what she didn’t want to admit she wanted - was stronger than everything else.
Nolan was dressed and throwing her clothes into her overnight bag when TK came into the bedroom. “You didn’t have to leave,” TK said, sounding frustrated. “We weren’t doing anything wrong.”
“I know,” Nolan mumbled, trying to find her shoes and looking anywhere but at TK. “I gotta go though.”
“Nolan,” TK stepped in front of her and put her hand on her chest.
“Let’s just forget about last night. It was stupid,” Nolan said, pushing past her to the bedroom door.
“Oh,” Travis said, looking like Nolan slapped her. “I didn’t think it was-”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Nolan said. She put her overnight bag on her shoulder and left.
Nolan was at her usual place at the barre before class, her leg stretched up the wall in front of her, when TK came into the studio. TK froze when she saw Nolan.
“Come here,” Nolan said, patting the barre next to her. TK dropped her head and walked over slowly, fidgeting with the waistband of her plastic shorts. “You know Claudia is going to make you take those off,” Nolan gave her a small smile. “I want to see the liiiines of your body,” Nolan imitated Claudia’s French Canadian accent.
TK smiled despite herself and slid the shorts off of her hips. She was wearing Nolan’s favorite leotard - the emerald green one with wide straps that criss-crossed over her shoulders. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back yesterday,” TK muttered, looking down at her feet as she stretched her arches.
“I’m sorry too,” Nolan said, leaning her head against TK’s shoulder. “I shouldn’t have-,” she shook her head and sighed. “Remember eighth grade? When we skipped Level 3 and everyone in Level 4 hated us?”
TK nodded, her shoulders hunched up around her ears.
Nolan reached over to touch her shoulders and watched them relax under her hands. “We’re best friends.”
“Do you still want to be best friends?” TK asked, looking up at Nolan. Her eyes were hopeful but there was something sad behind her look.
“Of course I do,” Nolan said, squeezing her shoulders. “It’s you and me, babe.”
TK nodded, her teeth worrying at her lower lip. Before Nolan could probe further, Claudia came in and class started.
The next few weeks flew by in a flurry of classes, rehearsals, and costume fittings, as well as long days at school and even longer evenings that Nolan and TK spent chatting over FaceTime and gossiping during sleepovers. They didn’t mention the party at Kevin’s house or what happened after and Nolan tried not to think about it. When she did think about it - when she woke up in the middle of the night, anxiety clawing at her neck - she squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to hear that small voice that said you’re gay and the even smaller voice that said you want your best friend. If she listened to those voices, everything she had constructed about her life would fall apart.
So she pushed all of that away and focused on what she could control: the perfect angle of her limbs during class, the perfect amount of pressure on Ivan’s hand when they danced together, the perfect snacks for her sleepovers with TK.
And when even that got to be too much, she thought about the ABT summer intensive. In the afternoons during algebra when she zoned out or on Saturday nights after TK fell asleep next to her, Nolan let herself imagine New York City on a hot July day - taking class next to TK, learning variations from Cynthia Harvey with TK, sharing a small apartment with TK.
If that meant something Nolan wasn’t ready to admit to herself, so be it. She’d worry about that after the audition.
“I can’t believe I have to wear a boring black leotard,” TK grumbled, digging through the cubby holes in her closet where she kept her leotards. She flung a fuchsia tie-dye leotard over her shoulder, followed by a long-sleeve neon yellow one. “ABT is so boring.”
“It’s the rules,” Nolan said from where she was lying on her back on TK’s bed. Her black leotard and good pink tights were folded neatly on top of TK’s cluttered dresser, ready for the audition the next morning. She watched TK emerge from the closet, finally, with a plain black leotard.
“Here,” TK said, flinging it at Nolan’s face. “Happy?”
“Delighted,” Nolan said, flat, and tossed the leotard back at TK. “Will you come to bed? You’re making me anxious.”
“I’m not sleepy,” TK whined, bouncing on the bed on her knees.
“Ok, but the audition is in,” Nolan looked over at her phone, “twelve hours. So please, at least turn out the lights.”
“Fine,” TK said, plugging in her phone and turning out the light before flopping down on the bed next to Nolan. “Don’t you get cold sleeping over the covers like this?”
“Not really,” Nolan said. She looked over at TK’s profile against the glow from the lights out the window. “I’m warm, see,” she said, taking TK’s hand and pressing it against the warm skin of her stomach where her pajama shirt had ridden up.
“Oh,” TK looked over at her, her breath coming short all of a sudden. “Yeah, you are.”
Nolan stayed perfectly still, TK’s hand on her stomach, and it all came back to her, everything she had been trying pushing away for a month - the sound of TK’s breath when she danced with her on Kevin’s lawn, right before Nolan leaned in to kiss her back, when Nolan’s fingers brushed her nipples in the tub. It all came washing over her so strongly that she couldn’t stop herself from touching TK.
Nolan turned over and kissed TK’s shoulder, tentatively, where it was bare next to the strap of her tank top. When Nolan looked up, she could see Travis’s eyes wide, staring at her in astonishment. Nolan kissed her again, on her collarbone, and then again at the hollow of her throat. By the time she reached TK’s lips, TK had brought her arms around to lightly touch Nolan’s waist, the tips of her fingers dipping under the waistband of Nolan’s pajama bottoms.
They kissed softly, slowly, TK’s body wound around Nolan’s, pressed all against the length of her. Nolan got a hand in between them and slid it up the front of TK’s top, running her palms over TK’s breasts as TK arched into her hand.
They slid out of their pajamas, neither of them saying a word as they came back together, hands grasping, touching everywhere. Nolan could feel her face blush bright red as TK pressed her hips against her, intent, meaningful. She blushed even harder when TK slid her fingers down, found where she was wet, and pressed deep inside her.
Nolan rolled over onto her back, her hands balled up and pressed against her eyes, as TK tasted her, her tongue sliding against her, dipping inside of her. She felt hot all over, hotter inside where TK was coaxing something out of her with her fingers, a humming that increased to a roar and exploded out of her.
TK kissed her after, her mouth wet with Nolan, driving Nolan crazy with the way she was grinding up against her leg. Nolan touched her then, feeling TK move in waves against her fingers, arching, crashing, hot and wet and all hers.
They kissed lazily after, TK’s curls wound around Nolan’s fingers, TK’s fingers gliding up and down Nolan’s sides. Eventually, the fire reignited and TK rolled Nolan over onto her back to straddle her, kiss her deeper. She reached into her bedside table to take out a small vibrator and turned it on, holding against herself and pulling Nolan against her. TK and Nolan moved together, riding the vibration, panting into each other’s mouths. As they came again, TK whispering fuck Nolan, fuck into the darkness, Nolan held on, holding TK as close as she could.
In the morning, TK was a storm cloud, silent and furious as she dressed. Nolan was too nervous to eat anything more than a granola bar and drink a cup of coffee before they were ready to leave, TK standing in the driveway by her mom’s car with a thunderous expression on her face.
When Nolan joined her to wait, TK just glared at her and turned away.
“Teeks, what’s wrong? Are you nervous?” Nolan asked quietly. TK never got nervous for auditions. She was usually the one talking Nolan down from a panic attack.
“I just- I can’t believe that you did that last night,” TK gritted out, her hands balled up at her sides. “After how you made me feel the last time - like I had done something wrong, that I was wrong. I can’t believe I let you.”
“What are you talking about? I thought you wanted to. Why didn’t you say-”
“Because you were kissing me and I wanted you,” TK interrupted, raising her voice. “I’ve always wanted you. God, I’m stupid.”
“Travis, I...I didn’t mean-”
“Just...don’t talk to me,” TK said, pulling the car door open. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say that you did that last night to fuck me up the night before the biggest audition of my life.”
“Why would I do that?” Nolan shouted.
“Why do you do anything!?” TK shouted back. “I have no idea what you’re thinking. We kiss and then you freak out, but last night you wanted to have sex with me? Like, what do you want from me?”
“I don’t know, Teeks,” Nolan mumbled, looking at the ground, up at the sky, anywhere but at TK. She couldn’t take the look of accusation in TK’s eyes because deep down, maybe TK was right.
“Girls, in the car,” TK’s mom yelled from the front door. She locked the house and hurried to the car.
Nolan got in the back seat and stared at the back of TK’s head, at her neat bun and straight neck. TK held herself so tightly, looking straight ahead, while Nolan sat behind her and tried not to cry on the morning of the biggest audition of her life. What did she want from TK? Other than to spend every minute with her, now and in the future, in life, in dance - the two of them, together always, best friends and more.
TK’s mom dropped them off in front of the Rock School and they hurried inside to get ready for the audition class. TK weaved through the crowd of dancers in the waiting room, dropping her bag down at the far end of the room in an unmistakable message to Nolan to keep her distance.
Nolan stripped down to her leotard and tights and pinned her number to her chest before sitting down to put on her pointe shoes. As she wound the ribbons around her ankles, she glanced over to where TK was stretching out her hips by herself, a determined look in her eye that Nolan knew was her game face. If only Nolan felt as confident as TK looked.
The audition class began at the barre as all ballet classes did and continued with center work - the quick jumps of the petite allegro that TK loved best, her feet quick and sure. The instructor had separated them into three groups and it was easy to tell how the audition was going by that point. Nolan and TK were in the second row of the first group among the girls who were clearly the best dancers in the class. At one point, as they were doing grand allegro across the floor in groups of six, Nolan found herself dancing next to TK, their steps in perfect sync, their bodies flying through the air together, their heads in their pirouettes whipping around at the same speed. For a moment, everything felt right again.
Too quickly, the class was over. Nolan followed TK back out to the waiting room and got dressed, slumping out to the waiting car behind TK. TK was chatty with her mom on the way home but ignored Nolan, not even saying goodbye when TK’s mom dropped Nolan off at home. Nolan stood on the front step of her house in the wan April sun and squinted at the car as it drove away, TK’s head turned so she wouldn’t have to look at Nolan.
The rest of April dragged on, each day the same. Up too early for school, a full day of zoning out while her teachers talked at her, a few hours at home for homework, then ballet class. Rinse, repeat.
With one huge exception: The day after the ABT audition, Nolan was dressed and waiting in the hallway outside the studio at 6:45. She heard the Level 4 class wrap up with the adagio and then the door swung open and TK came hurtling out. She brushed past Nolan without even looking at her, grabbed her ballet bag, and headed out the front door without even taking her pointe shoes off.
Nolan stood still, shocked for a moment, before she turned back to the studio door to see Claudia leaning against the door frame, her arms crossed. “What did you do to that girl?” Claudia said accusingly.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nolan stammered, hunching her shoulders as she passed Claudia and took her spot at the barre. She put her right leg up on the barre - if she leaned over, it looked like she was stretching but it really hid her face so no one could see that she was fighting tears.
“Here,” Claudia said, coming up next to Nolan and lifting her foot off of the barre. “Hip down,” she said quietly, lifting Nolan’s leg up to the side until her foot was pointed straight up at the ceiling, a perfect split. Nolan was taking deep breaths, breathing through the stretch to her cold hamstrings and trying not to think about TK, her face as she bolted past.
“Thank you,” Nolan whispered, letting her eyes fall shut.
“She asked to take Level 4 classes for the rest of the year,” Claudia said, using the hand that wasn’t holding Nolan’s foot to press down on her hip and force the turnout. “She loves you so much that it hurts too badly to see you.”
“I don’t know what to do,” Nolan mumbled as Claudia let her foot down.
Claudia gave her a look and sighed, turning to the stereo to start the music for class.
Nolan tried to focus, not let the emotions roiling inside her to throw off her balance. But that class and every class for a month, the barre next to her was empty. Nolan’s technique was off and getting worse, her turns sloppy, her jumps lackluster. TK, her best friend, her other half, was a ghost that she saw in the hallway before class and nothing more. At rehearsals, TK stuck close to Carter’s side and wouldn’t even look at Nolan, would leave the studio when it was time for Nolan’s solos during weekend rehearsals. Ivan, sensing the tension and Nolan’s lack of focus, tried to talk to TK but TK froze him out too. “It’s hopeless,” Nolan said, resigned to the fact that she had fucked up too badly to make things right. That after so many years together, her and TK were finally done.
In bed at night, Nolan tried not to think about that last night with TK before the audition, the night that changed everything. But she couldn’t help it - the memory of TK’s body and the smell of her hair were too strong to push away. And even though nothing had been right since, Nolan wouldn’t trade that night for anything. That night, she showed TK how much she loved her, would always love her, even though it had ruined their friendship in the end. Even though she didn’t realize it until it was too late, even though she wasn’t strong enough to say the words out loud.
“No, no, no, that’s all wrong,” Claudia shouted from the tenth row of the theater. She pushed her glasses into her hair and came out of the row to stand by the lip of the stage. “Nolan, this is the dress rehearsal. The recital is tomorrow. What are you doing?”
“I’m sorry,” Nolan mumbled, pulling on the bottom of her bodice where it met the top of her tulle skirt.
“Giselle is dead. She’s not a zombie,” Claudia said, exasperated. “It’s like you’re not even seeing Ivan.” She hopped onto the edge of the stage and swung her legs up, coming to stand gracefully before Nolan. “Corps, take five. Not you, TK,” she pointed to where TK was trying to edge into the wings.
“Claudia,” TK whined.
“You need to hear this too,” Claudia snapped in TK’s direction. She didn’t seem to notice that Ivan was backing off of the stage. She turned to Nolan and pinned her with a serious look. “Giselle is the most romantic ballet we have. At its core, it’s about heartbreak. A love so big that Giselle dies because she cannot have it.”
“I don’t really see-” Nolan started, chancing a look at TK, who was staring at her and looking even more miserable than Nolan felt.
“In this variation, Giselle knows that she’s doomed. The only gift she can give to Albrecht is to show him the true depths of her feelings. Only her true, boundless love can free him. The audience needs to believe you feel that.”
Nolan stood still, looking between Claudia and TK, her throat tight.
“I don’t know what happened between the two of you and I don’t want to know,” Claudia raised her voice to cut off TK’s protests and turned back to Nolan. “But if you can’t tap into what you felt for TK, what I saw in you all of those months ago?” Claudia shook her head sadly. “I’m sorry, tomorrow will be a failure.”
Nolan looked down at her hands, unsure what to do. She watched as Claudia climbed down off of the stage and waved to the tech booth. “From the beginning of Giselle and Albrecht,” she shouted. She turned back to where Nolan and TK were standing frozen on the stage. “TK, kneel at center stage where Albrecht goes. Nolan, from the top.”
“But Claudia-” TK protested, sinking to her knees at center stage where Ivan had been minutes before.
The music started, the high strains of the violin, and Nolan stood on pointe next to where TK was kneeling. She looked down at TK, beautiful in her sparkly white bodice and long white skirt, a delicate tiara in her dark hair. TK looked up at her, her eyes wide.
Nolan started dancing - the slow arabesques and extensions as she circled around around TK, her arms circling down until her fingertips brushed TK’s shoulders, drawing goosebumps along TK’s arms. She moved as if in a dream, the music moving through her, every bit of her energy flowing toward TK, whose chest was rising and falling quickly as she struggled to keep her emotions under control.
Finally, TK stood, taking a step toward Nolan with her hand outstretched. She moved left and Nolan moved right, just passing each other again, their white skirts brushing as they passed. Again and again, they moved past each other again and again, two lovers separated by time and circumstance. They finally met at center stage when Albrecht would take Giselle’s hands and lift her over his head - but Nolan and TK just stood there, hands clasped, facing each other, waiting.
Until Nolan bowed her head, bringing her lips to the backs of TK’s hands and kissing them, one after the other. “I love you,” she whispered to TK.
TK looked at her, eyes shining in the blindingly bright stage lights, and the music stopped.
“So,” Nolan said, scuffing her pointe shoe on the concrete of the loading dock. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” Travis shrugged. “I’m still recovering from Claudia pushing us out here and telling us not to come in until we figured our shit out.”
Nolan chuckled and ran her hand over her hair, smoothing down the flyaways around her hairline. “I’m really sorry that I bolted on you that morning.”
“I know,” Travis said, “I thought you only wanted to be friends. And a little part of me thought you were ashamed of me."
“No,” Nolan said, taking Travis’s hands in hers. “Never. I was afraid of myself. Like, how much I didn't want to be just friends.”
“I guess, but…,” Travis trailed off.
“What?” Nolan shook her hands. “Tell me.”
“I was afraid too but, you know. It’s us. It’s you and me.”
Nolan exhaled, dropping her forehead against TK's. “Yeah, you’re right.”
“I really missed you,” Travis said, nuzzling her nose against Nolan’s, her breath hot against Nolan’s face.
“I missed you too,” Nolan said, her eyes almost closed. “My life is so sad without you, babe.”
“Then be with me,” Travis whispered. She tilted her head to kiss Nolan softly, questioningly, once, twice.
Nolan nodded, surging toward Travis and kissing her deeper, her arms clasping Travis to her chest. They pulled apart a minute later, smiling.
“Do you think we’ll get to go to New York together?” Nolan asked, thinking about the ABT audition and everything that happened the night before.
“Well, I don’t want to go without you,” Travis said, taking Nolan’s hand and leading her back inside the theater. “It’s you and me, babe.”
Nolan got to the theater early, taking a spot at the lip of the stage in her tights, leotard, and a pair of long pink legwarmers pulled all the way up her thighs. She started stretching, putting her right foot in front of her on the lip of the stage and leaning over, feeling the stretch down her right hamstring as her nose touched her knee. Then she turned her standing leg and bent to the side over her leg, stretching her arm overhead. Finally, she let her leg down, swinging her leg forward and back to loosen up her hip, and switched to the other side.
As she limbered up, she watched the other Level 4 and 5 dancers arrive in the theater auditorium for pre-recital warm-up. She kept an eye on the clock on the wall as she fidgeted with the wide straps of her pink leotard, waiting to see how close TK would cut it this time. Two minutes before warm-up was set to start at 5:30, TK scooted into the auditorium in her pointe shoes, flinging her ballet bag into the front row of seats and hurrying to the spot next to Nolan. She was wearing her tie-dyed leotard with black tights over it.
“You made it,” Nolan said quietly, grabbing the arch of her foot and extending her leg in front of her face and then to the side. She bent forward so her hip joint popped and then she let her leg down.
TK leaned down to check the ribbons on her pointe shoes and smiled up at Nolan. “I’m here, relax,” she said, a lock of her hair falling out of her bun into her face.
“Here,” Nolan said, pulling a bobby pin out of her bun and handing it to TK.
“Mwah,” TK blew her a kiss and started stretching her calves. “Get any interesting mail today?” she asked.
Nolan nodded, swallowing nervously, thinking about the creamy white envelope with her name and the words “American Ballet Theatre” on it. “Haven’t opened it,” she said.
“Me either,” TK said. “What should we do?”
“Ladies,” Claudia said, clapping her hands sharply from the back of the auditorium. “First position.”
The applause was going strong at the end of the recital. The whole ballet school was lined up backstage for the curtain call, the littlest dancers first. As each class paraded onto the stage to a louder and louder ovation, Nolan and TK stood backstage, huddled under the light of the prop table.
“You open yours first,” TK said, setting her ABT envelope down on the table and wiping her sweating palms on her skirt.
“No, you,” Nolan said, trying to hand her envelope to TK.
“Let’s do it together,” TK said. Nolan could tell she was trying to be brave but the way she was biting her lip showed her nerves.
Together, they held the envelopes for a moment before tearing them open.
“Oh my god,” TK said, the letter held tight in her hand.
“New York,” Nolan whispered, still staring at the letter. “What does yours say?” Nolan looked up at TK, who was frozen in place. She grabbed her arm and shook it. “Teeks?”
“NEW YORK!” TK shrieked. The dancers still backstage turned to look at them but they didn't care, laughing and jumping up and down in each other’s arms.
“Nolan, TK,” Claudia gestured to them from the wings. “You’re last. C’mon.”
They walked on stage and stood between Ivan and Jake in the front row, all four of them holding hands as they bowed toward the clapping audience. Ivan and Jake let go; Nolan and TK held on. They walked forward together and curtsied deeply together, bowing their heads at the applause.
Ivan disappeared off stage for a moment and returned carrying a bouquet of roses for Nolan. As usual, there was a single rose set apart in the bouquet for the lead dancer to hand to her partner. Instead, Nolan reached into the bouquet and handed the single red rose to TK, now smiling at her through her tears. “You and me, babe,” Nolan said, kissing her cheek. “You and me.”