Home > Dance For Me (Fenbrook Academy #1)(4)

Dance For Me (Fenbrook Academy #1)(4)
Author: Helena Newbury

“I meant more...what’s your connection with dancing?”

“I need inspiration.” He stepped a little closer, right into my personal space, and his hand went out as if to touch my face. He stopped just short, as if he knew that would be a mistake.

My heart beat faster, and not through fear. I wanted his hand there, wanted to know how it felt against my cheek. “What do you...do?”

He was staring right into my eyes. “I’m an—” And I saw his expression flicker, just for a second. “An engineer—an inventor. I need a muse.”

I must have frowned, because he continued.

“I’ll pay you. By the hour.”

That snapped me back to reality. What was this? Was he trying to pick me up? Me? A guy like this? Ridiculous. So this must be something weird, possibly even dangerous. “No.”


I walked away, cutting him off, and with each step away from him, I tried to convince myself I was doing the right thing. No guy—especially no guy who looked like him—was going to try to pick me up. But even if it had been some sort of pick-up line, I’d avoided something messy and complicated. What would have happened, once he saw through the façade and got to know the real me?

And if he really had wanted me to dance for him one-on-one—well, that sounded creepy, right?

Only weirdly, it hadn’t, coming from him. It had sounded heartfelt and genuine, like he really did want a muse, like some renaissance painter. But what did an engineer want with a muse?

I slowed my pace as I let the possibility trickle through. What if he’d been for real? What if this guy who’d seemed more solid than anyone I’d ever met, really had wanted something as simple as to see me dance again. And I’d turned him down....

I spun around, but he was gone. I stood there, jostled by passers-by, and felt my stomach sink. I had the awful sense that I’d just been presented with something special, and had lost it forever.

Well, fine. It was no more than I deserved.


Our apartment block looked worse than it was. Someone had layered shiny black paint over the outside walls in an effort to cover up the cracks, making it look like a glistening, rotten tooth. We figured it made the rent cheaper, though, and when we were inside, we didn’t have to look at it.

I slunk in through the main door and listened. I could hear six-shooters and horses from one floor up and my heart sank. That meant Mr. Kresinski was sitting there with the door open, as he always did when rent day drew close. I really didn’t feel like facing him, but unless I wanted to crash out in the hall, I didn’t have much choice.

Kresinski was Polish, and ran the whole apartment block himself since his wife died. He was about seventy, with a thick white beard, and looked like a sad-eyed Santa. It wasn’t that he shouted at us, or threatened us, or tried to get into our pants. It was far worse than that. He laid on the guilt.

“Natasha!” he called out as he saw my head rise above the handrail. “Natasha, how did the audition go?”

I’d told him a week ago and, of course, he’d remembered. “I didn’t get it.”

“Ohhh!” He looked so sorry for me that I wanted to hug him. “They are all idiots, Natasha,” he told me, his voice shaking with outrage. “All idiots! You dance like an angel!”

“Thank you, Mr. Kresinski.”

“I’m so lucky to have you and Clarissa. I hear tales from other landlords of people your age: they do drugs, they have the police round, doors are broken down, they don’t pay their rent—” He made that noise that only Jewish people over sixty can do convincingly, like “Oosh!” He looked at me somberly. “But I can always rely on you, Natasha. Thank you.”

I smiled a sickly grin and nodded as I walked up to our floor.

Inside, I leaned back against the door and sighed. I liked the door to our apartment. It was a huge heavy thing that must presumably have been made of wood, but felt more like lead. Whenever I closed it, I felt like I was snugly isolated from the outside world.

I was doing the math in my head. Three days to go until payday—it would be noodles until then. Then my bank balance would leap into the black for one delirious day until the rent hammered it back down into the red again. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the rest of the month. Is it meant to be this hard?

“Clarissa?” I waited for her reply, then remembered she was rehearsing that night. She’d landed a part in some tiny off-Broadway show and they were scrambling to get ready for when they opened in a week. I was on my own for the evening. Damn. I tried to avoid time alone. The last thing I needed was space to think.

I felt a shift, like the floor had slid under my feet a few inches and left me closer to the edge of the cliff. I knew what was waiting for me at the bottom, if I let myself fall off. I had to do something.

I fired up the TV and turned the volume up loud, then flicked desperately through the channels. I watched heartbreak and tears, elegant her**nes and cigar-chomping heroes, and none of it worked.

I got up and cooked: pasta, garlic mushrooms, bruschetta...far more food than I needed or wanted. I ate a plateful of pasta and wrapped up the rest for Clarissa, then cleared everything away. Then I cleaned the kitchen, scrubbing at the sink until it shone, even mopping the floor. But I still felt like I was sliding closer and closer to that cliff edge, with nothing to cling onto.

I sat down on the slippery tiles, panting. I had to stop this fast or I was going to have a full-on meltdown and Clarissa would find me stretched out on the floor in hysterical tears. I couldn’t let that happen. I’d held it together for over a year and I wasn’t going to slip now.

My bag was in my room, twenty steps away. Nestling in it, the cigarette case and its pack of perfect, shining blades.

No. There was another way.

I stalked through to my room and stripped off my clothes, throwing on some old shorts and a worn t-shirt. Then I went over to the bike.

I’d bought the exercise bike when I moved to New York and realized I couldn’t afford a gym. I’d scoured Craigslist until I found exactly what I was looking for, a fifty-something businessman who’d bought one to get in shape and then come to his senses. That had two advantages: he’d bought a top of the line model that wouldn’t wear out any time soon, and he let me have it for a bargain price because he was embarrassed and wanted to get rid of it fast. We hauled it home in Clarissa’s car and two guys from the academy (both of them ultra-helpful in the hopes of getting into Clarissa’s pants) manhandled it upstairs for me. It took up a good portion of my by-no-means-huge bedroom and was too heavy to push into the corner when I wasn’t using it, so it had to be permanently in the way, right in the middle of the floor.

People had said I was crazy—why not just ride an actual bike instead of the subway, and get my exercise that way? They didn’t understand what I needed it for.

I climbed on, the feel of the saddle calming me just like the Ylang-Ylang scent of the cigarette case. I started to grind my way through the initial resistance, like running through oatmeal. As I fought past the inertia, my legs started a steady rhythm and my speed picked up. Lights flashed excitedly on the screen, telling me how well I was doing, but I didn’t care about them.

I focused on my feet, kicking them down on the pedals as if I was trying to launch myself into orbit. My speed rose, so I notched up the resistance, the bike’s hum rising in pitch. After a few minutes, my legs were warm and I could hear my breathing. Good.

I leaned forward over the handlebars, speeding up again, my legs like pistons trapped in an endless cycle. My body was just an engine to power them. I could feel the burn starting in my muscles, my thighs and hamstrings beginning to complain. Good.

I was gritting my teeth, sweat running freely down my back. The air was hot in my lungs, my muscles screaming, my heart hammering on my ribs like it was going to burst clear out of my chest, but it was worth it. Because with every turn of the pedals, I could feel my world growing more solid, more real, the sweat under my fingers and the fire in my legs evidence that I was here and not back in that house in New England.

My legs pumped faster, my upper body rigid. I had my head down, hair covering my face. I notched the resistance up to maximum, gasping for breath, out of control. I wasn’t a person. I was a thing, a piece of meat tortured by the bike and I deserved every—

I stopped pedaling, my legs going limp. The momentum of the pedals dragged them around and around for minutes afterwards. Sweat ran in rivulets down my cheeks, as if I was crying.

When I finally dragged myself off the bike, my limbs were like dully-throbbing lumps of lead. I left a trail of soaked clothes as I stripped off on the way to the bathroom. Just before I climbed into the shower, I caught a look at myself in the mirror.

The sweat had made the mascara run in long, black lines down my cheeks and my body was clammy and trembling. Strands of hair were plastered to my forehead and neck. How could he—how could anyone—possibly be interested in me?

I got under the shower and cranked the ancient lever over to freezing. Icy water cascaded over me, stealing my breath, but even as I shivered and gasped, it seemed to cement me in the present.

When I’d got so cold I didn’t really feel it anymore, I turned off the shower and wrapped myself in one of the threadbare towels. Semi-dry, I padded back to my room and found my old bathrobe—the one a boyfriend brought me back from Vegas, with the hotel name on it. I curled up on the couch in the lounge, no longer panicky. At last, I could actually think about things.

Things like Darrell.

Who was he? Some guy who liked ballet? He sure didn’t seem like the type. Ballet fans tended to be well-off and mostly older. His clothes had been expensive but he didn’t look rich. Rich guys, in my mind, sat behind desks all day running companies or trading stocks and shares. Darrell looked more like a construction worker, or a fire-fighter—something physical. He looked like he worked his ass off.

I cuddled into the robe a little tighter. I had a pretty good memory, and I had no trouble bringing up a nice, clear image of his face, the locks of black hair falling down over his forehead. He’d looked like he might be Irish, with those big, blue eyes. And when he’d sat down, his shirt pulling tight and the collar open just enough...I closed my eyes and in mind, I traced the line of his collarbone down, following it across his body and over the smooth rise of his chest. I tried to imagine what he looked like under the shirt. If I just...inched...it up.... I knew his stomach was nice and flat, so I gave him a strong, defined six-pack. I could almost feel them under my fingers, thick bars of muscle under soft, perfect skin. Was he an inny or an outy? Definitely an inny.

I shifted in the chair, eyes still closed. My hands slid around his waist and upwards, pushing the shirt up with them. I’d glimpsed a strong back, when he’d turned to go to his seat. My palms slid over his muscles, my imagination filling in the gaps. I was very close to him, close enough that I could feel the heat of his body.

I imagined sliding my hands down to his ass. Blue denim, tight over firm cheeks, maybe a little intake of breath from him as he felt my hands there. I pulled him close and, rubbing up against me, I could feel—

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