Home > Dance For Me (Fenbrook Academy #1)(9)

Dance For Me (Fenbrook Academy #1)(9)
Author: Helena Newbury

“It’s not like that!”

“Like what?” He was watching me over the top of his coffee mug.

“It’s not about the money.”

“Oh. So it’s love?”

I felt my face go hot. I wasn’t ready to talk about that part of it with him. I barely understood what was going on myself. Jesus, was I blushing? What was I, a fourteen year-old girl? “No! It’s business. I pay her to dance!”

“Uh-huh. Millionaire pays beautiful woman to dance for him in his cellar. That ain’t suspicious at all.” He drank about half his coffee without looking away from me. “You sure you know what you’re doing?”

“I’m fine.”

“How’s the prototype? That fine?”

“Awesome.”

“Liar. You figure out how to make it dodge yet?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. That’s what this thing with Natasha is about. I think there’s something there, something to do with dancing.”

Neil cocked his head to one side. “You going to put ballet shoes on a missile and have it pirouette out of the way?”

“Why do you have to be so literal? I don’t know what the connection is yet. That’s why I need to watch her dance some more.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Don’t start that again.” I poured myself some coffee. It was difficult to think, the kiss still burning in my mind. There was no way Neil could know what happened, right?

“You tell her about the missile? Does she know what she’s helping you make?”

I said nothing.

Neil raised his eyebrows. “But you told her you make weapons for a living, right?”

“In a manner of speaking,” I said shiftily.

“What manner of speaking?”

“The sort where I told her I’m an engineer.”

Now Neil folded his arms and looked at me suspiciously. “You’ve never been secretive about it before.”

He was right. I didn’t hide what I did—I was proud of it. The world needed weapons, and someone was going to make them. I made the very best. So why hadn’t I just told her, when I’d talked to her outside the audition? Or in our Facebook chat? Or downstairs, when she saw the workshop for the first time? Why had I flung a sheet over the missile, moments before she arrived? All of the girls I’d dated, the ones from the charity fundraisers and the horse races, had known what I did and they’d never had a problem with it. If they’d mentioned it at all, they’d claimed to be impressed. Why was she any different?

I shrugged. “She doesn’t need to know.”

“Mm-hmm.” Neil picked up another pastry and started munching on it. “Because lying right from the first date always goes well.”

“It wasn’t a date!”

“There’s an alternative.” Neil paused for effect. “You could, you know, not make things that kill people.”

My chest tightened. Neil and had come to an understanding about my work, after many years of drunken rants on both sides. He’d accepted what I did, but that didn’t mean he liked it. “We can’t all be flower children, Neil.”

“The Bitch isn’t going to be pleased.”

“I wish you wouldn’t call her that—it’s childish. Her name’s Carol.”

“It’s both accurate and appropriate. The woman is distilled bad karma.”

I sighed. “How is it that you can have a problem with a respectable executive, but have no issue hanging out with someone called Big Earl.” The biker thing was more than dress-up and weekend rides for Neil. He was in pretty tight with one of the local motorcycle clubs, guys who’d leave you dead in a ditch without a second thought.

“Hey, those guys have honor and respect, man. They’re like a brotherhood. And I mean it, Carol’s going to be pissed.”

“She’ll get her missile.” I topped up my coffee. “I’ll get it working eventually.”

“I wasn’t talking about the missile.”

It took me a second to figure out what he meant. “Natasha? Carol won’t care about Natasha! It’s none of her business! The company doesn’t own me!”

“Uh-huh. You just keep telling yourself that, man. Hey, when are they coming again?”

“ ‘They’—Oh. Clarissa.”

Now Neil was the one looking shifty. “Yeah. I want to make sure I’m not here if she comes back.”

I crossed my arms and watched him. “Uh-huh.”

Chapter Ten

Natasha

That night, I took a long look at the bike and decided that—for once—I didn’t need it. I just slid into bed and let my mind fill with thoughts of Darrell. Sleep took a while to come but I didn’t mind. I had something solid to hang onto as I lay there in the darkness. Something to focus on.

Fantasize about.

....

Some minutes later, my h*ps strained upwards, my breath ragged as his mouth devoured my br**sts, his hands roving over my ass. My fingers were his fingers, on me and in me...God...

I fell back against the pillow, sated. I lay there for a second, just relishing the feeling of being a normal girl, of being happy.

Then my fingers grazed the dressing on my thigh, the rough parallel lines of the scars beneath.

I wasn’t normal. I wasn’t normal at all.

I turned over, staring at the wall. The reality of what I did to myself, and why I did it, hit me like a freight train and I had to dig my nails into my palms to stop me sliding out of control. When it passed, though, it left something unexpected behind. A tiny, twisting thread of hope.

What if this was for real? What if, with him, I could be normal? When I was around him, I didn’t seem to panic and slide down towards my memories so much. He anchored me, just as firmly as the punishment of cutting myself—maybe better. Maybe I’d wake up tomorrow and I wouldn’t need the cigarette case.

Maybe.

***

The next morning, I figured I’d better stick to my routine, even if I wasn’t going to cut. Too much change, too soon, couldn’t be good, right?

My one deviation was to knock on Mr. Kresinski’s door and pay him my rent—early. He was overjoyed at not having to chase me, and I figured it would buy me some slack if things went wrong in the future. I had no idea how long the arrangement with Darrell was going to last—or what it might turn into.

I got to the restroom while it was still empty, then sat there on the toilet seat for ten whole minutes debating whether to do it or not.

I didn’t want to, but then I never wanted to. It wasn’t a want; it was a need.

I thought of Darrell and felt like I’d be okay without it.

Then I thought about the corridors. The way everyone would push against me, between classes, not knowing who was in their midst. The long hours of practice, lined up with the other dancers—the real dancers, the ones who weren’t fakes. The tension...dear God, the tension of feeling that, at any moment, someone was going to announce what I’d done and everyone would discover the sort of person I really was.

I ripped down my jeans and swabbed at my thigh with an alcohol wipe. When I cut, my vision was blurry with tears and I went deeper than I meant to. Blood swelled and trickled and I swore and sobbed, blotting it with toilet paper. But even though I had to fix it, even though the line was ragged and torn next to all the neat ones, it still worked. I could feel the floor under my feet, feel my breathing returning to normal.

I slapped a dressing over it, looked down at myself and then cried again—big, hot tears. Because I knew that the thing I had with Darrell, whatever it was, would be gone in an instant if he ever found out.

***

By lunchtime I’d got things into some sort of shape in my head. OK, so I had a problem. But I was functional, right? I got by. As long as Darrell didn’t find out, everything would be fine. Better than fine. Things could be great.

A little voice inside me told me I was kidding myself, but I crushed it.

The cafeteria at Fenbrook is your standard college eatery: trays of sodden mash potato, unidentifiable gray meat in sauce and wilted greens, long tables, cliques and noise. Only at Fenbrook you’d regularly see dancers in tights and tutus, grabbing a bite between rehearsals. Or a musician with his sax or guitar or violin next to him, watched as carefully as a favorite child. Or actors running lines while they ate, little snatches of Macbeth or Mamma Mia or CSI mixing together.

Clarissa and Jasmine were sitting across from me, which made it feel a little like an interrogation.

“She still hasn’t told me,” Clarissa said to Jasmine, as if this was the cruelest torture possible.

“You still haven’t told her?” Jasmine looked imploringly at me.

“Come on, Nat. You’ve had a day of mystery. What happened?” I could see Clarissa wasn’t going to quit. Actually, now I’d had time to work through everything in my head, it’d be good to talk to them.

“He kissed me.”

“He kissed you or you kissed?” Clarissa asked immediately.

That threw me. “Does it matter?”

They both looked at me as if I was crazy. “YES!”

I thought about it. “He kissed me. Definitely, he kissed me. But I kissed back. At least, I think I did.”

“This was in the batcave?” Jasmine was almost bouncing up and down in her seat.

“It’s not a—”

“So what happens now?” Clarissa interrupted. “Are you seeing him again this afternoon?”

“I’m dancing for him. I’m not—I mean, it’s business, I think. It’s not a date...is it?”

They both gave me that look again. Was I being incredibly naïve? Was this just some seduction technique he used—pay a girl to dance and then kiss her? But it didn’t feel like that. The way he’d watched me...it had felt like he’d actually been studying me, not lusting after me. Most of the time.

“Can I come?” asked Jasmine. “I have to meet him!”

I started to nod. “Sure. Clarissa’s not coming because....” I trailed off. Clarissa was shaking her head at me. “Clarissa does want to come,” I said slowly, frowning. “Because...oh, wait. I get it.”

Clarissa glared warningly at me.

Jasmine looked between the two of us, delighted. “What?”

I smirked. “Nothing.”

***

As she slammed her door and checked her hair in the driver-side mirror, Clarissa told me, “You’re wrong. I’m coming to watch out for you.”

She’d put more lipstick on than usual, I noticed. “Mm-hmm.”

“That guy’s probably not even here.”

She was in a DKNY dress, today. A short DKNY dress. I nodded at the Harley parked next to the Ducatti. “Mm-hmm.”

Darrell opened the door just as I reached it. Glancing into the kitchen, I spotted Neil wearing, if it was possible, an even more faded and worn t-shirt and jeans than last time, as if he’d dressed as deliberately as Clarissa. There was a fresh basket of pastries and it looked bigger, this time.

Clarissa walked in behind me, saw Neil and huffed. “Oh, great.”

 

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