“Hey, Soledad, have you ever done Carmen?”

With the static buzz and ringing going on in my head, it took a few seconds for the words to penetrate.  Not that they made any more sense once they did.

“What?”

“Have you ever done Carmen?”

I continued staring at the reflection in the dressing room mirror, rational thought kind of… starting to return.  So I’d start with the most rational question.

“Jonathan, what are you doing in here?”

The reflection’s startlingly pale eyes widened.  “There you are.  I was wondering if you were ever going to hear me.  I’ve been trying to talk to you since you came offstage.”

“You were?”

“I was.”

“Huh.”  I took a sip of water, trying to clear out more of the post-performance adrenaline haze.  “You know, Jonathan, I’d think you’d know better. I mean, it’s just a rehearsal, but still.”

The reflection cringed.  “Sorry.”

I knew he was.  Even though he was a musician and I was a dancer, and generally never the twain shall meet, four years as classmates meant I at least knew him well enough to know that normally, he’d be all about respecting the boundaries.  But for whatever reason, the boundaries seemed to have gone AWOL, prompting him to barge into the dancer’s dressing room and pepper me with bizarre questions.  The temptation to smack him upside the head was definitely strong, but so was the adrenaline high of a performance well done.  Lucky for him.

“Okay, now that I’m marginally more with it, let’s try again—what are you talking about and why are you back here anyway, instead of down in the pit, where you belong?”

And regardless of what he was going on about, I still needed to get ready for my next number, so I peeled down the sleeves of the formfitting Firebird costume I was wearing, holding it to my chest as I bent over to untie my pointe shoes.  Not that he was actually checking out anything.  His entire focus—laser-beam intense—was centered right on my face. Okay, strike that.  Mostly centered on my face.  Because just as I finished wiggling out of the costume, I saw his gaze drop—just for a second—before it returned to my face, like it was determined to stay there.

“I’m back here because I’m off for the next few numbers and I needed to find out if you’ve ever done Carmen.”

“Uh-huh.”

Yeah… still not making much sense.  I shook out the bodysuit and draped it over the chair next to mine.  As I moved, I saw his gaze do its thing again with an added small shake of his head like he was scolding himself.  You know, I almost felt sorry for him, but this was the dancers’ communal dressing room.  It’s not like our rep as a notoriously immodest bunch—girls and guys alike—should come as any big surprise.  Honestly, in tights and the flesh-colored pasties that played defense against clinging Lycra, arctic air conditioners, or any potential wardrobe malfunctions, I was almost fully clothed.  Comparatively speaking.

Chilled from the air conditioner blasting through the theatre—and taking a tiny bit of pity on him and the wandering eyes he couldn’t seem to help—I grabbed my heavy terry cloth robe from the back of the chair and pulled it on, sneaking my share of looks in the mirror, trying to figure out what his deal was.  And why did I care?  For God’s sake, I had another performance to get ready for.  Just as I was getting ready to tell him to get lost, that whatever it was could damn well wait, he shoved his hands through his hair and huffed out a massive breath that blew loose wisps of air against the back of my neck.

Closing his eyes he took another breath, this one deep enough to pull his ratty gray t-shirt tight across his chest.  Fascinated, I watched as his mouth went visibly firm and he released the breath in a slow, controlled stream though a small opening between his lips. Opening his eyes, he tried again.

“Have you ever portrayed Carmen?”

As our gazes met again in the big mirror the last of the woolies cleared away and everything clicked into place.  “Carmen, as in, gypsy, opera, ballet, exceptionally misguided role for Beyoncé to play in a really cheesy and unimaginative reworking of a classic.  Right?”

Thick sandy brows drew together in a line as straight as a practice barre.  “You lost me on the last part, but otherwise, yeah, that Carmen.”

“No, but I have studied the role.”  I shrugged and stood from the chair, blinking as we came face to neck.  Had he always been this tall?  Or had we just never stood quite this close to each other?  I mean, given that I stood 5’10″ and most danseurs tended to have maybe only a couple of inches on me, this was definitely… novel.  Edging past him I said, “It’s one of my favorites.”  Carmen.  The Firebird.  Those were my kinds of roles.  Not every ballerina aspired to be the wee, dainty Sugar Plum Fairy.

Ducking behind the garment rack, I pulled my black and burgundy dress off the hanger.  Half hidden by a forest of spandex and chiffon and ribbons, I stepped into the costume and slipped the thin straps over my shoulders, yanking the zipper up myself rather than flag down one of the poor freshmen running around doing minion duty.

I dropped back into my chair and ducked under the vanity, rummaging around in my bag for my ballroom shoes.  “So what about it?”

“Would you like to portray Carmen?”

“Sure.  Who wouldn’t?”  Yanking on the black leather heels, I stood and shouldered my way past him again and out of the dressing room.  Threading my way through the mad backstage chaos, I headed for the wings, fighting the nervous urge to bounce up and down and pump my arms.  No reason to waste energy that would be more valuable channeled onto the dance floor.

“I’m serious.  If you’re interested you can be Carmen.”

The words, I understood them, but they didn’t make a damned bit of sense.  And right this second, I really didn’t have the time to try to dissect Jonathan’s cryptic statements.

“Look, the only thing I’m interested right now is my performance.  Period.”  I paused by the rosin box, rapidly grinding the ball of one foot, then the other, in the yellow-white powder, knocking the excess off against the edges before resuming my path toward the wings.  The closer I got, the more I made a point to walk slower, consciously matching my breathing to each step, the chaos, the bodies, the extraneous chatter, all falling away a little more with each step as I dropped into my zone.

“I know… I know… I’m really sorry, I know my timing blows.”

Each word sounded as if it was coming from further and further away.  “Yeah, it really does.  Seriously, whatever this is about, it’s just going to have to wait.”

“I know.  I got impatient, I’m sorry.  I can wait.”

I risked a glance over my shoulder, looking straight into those pale eyes and catching my breath again at the intensity.  Feeling myself wrapped—for just a split second—in a surprising sense of familiarity.  Strong enough and shocking enough that those little hairs on the back of my neck went straight to red alert.

“You’re on in sixty,” the stage manager whispered beside me.

“Thanks,” I replied absently, still looking over my shoulder.

I took a deep breath, glanced out towards the empty expanse of stage that beckoned, then back into that steady, simpatico gray gaze.  “Meet me after rehearsal’s called.”

“Where?”

“Mack and Mabel’s.”

“Okay.”  He smiled, full out for the first time, revealing ever so slightly crooked front teeth.  “You know, don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but you’re a seriously kick ass dancer.”

It came so out of nowhere, that even as the disciplined dancer was urging me towards the stage, the other part of me, the girl, couldn’t help but do a double take.  Chancing one final glance over my shoulder, I felt an answering smile tug at the corners of my mouth.

With the unexpected compliment echoing in my mind, I strode out onto the worn floorboards of the stage and assumed my opening pose.  Breathing deep, I waited for the strum of the guitar, the dark insistent rhythms of the percussion to sink into my skin and work their magic, transforming me into an enchantress, a siren.  With each note, the minutiae of dress rehearsal, of intense boys with pretty eyes, of the petty annoyances of life, of school, of everything—

It all faded into insignificance as once again, the dancer took over.

**

When the Stars Go Blue, the newest title from Caridad Ferrer, coming November 23rd from St. Martin’s Griffin.

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