Chapter 12 – I Couldn’t Leave You (Baltimore)
I take a deep breath. The notes start to play. I move forward slowly. I place myself in the center of the stage.
My mouth opens… and I start singing.
I was scared, terrified, paralyzed… behind the scenes. But as soon as I came out and noticed the light on my face, it was as if that light erased the doubts, the suspicions, the fears.
The music grows, the dancers go on stage. Kido and Andie flank me most of the time, while the other dancers spin them and move through the air with a grace I know none of them thought they would have. Some of them, from time to time, pick me up in their arms too, and I pass from hand to hand as the notes continue to rise from my throat to the sky.
Russell and his group are in the back pretending to waltz. But as the music begins to fade again, Chase pairs up with Andie and Monster with Kido, everyone steps aside to make way for a single silhouette, alone in the light, that comes up behind me. I turn around and reach out to him. He takes it, we dance, we turn slowly, he gives me a turn, I caress his cheek containing almost the desire to bring my lips closer to his… we join our foreheads with the last notes…
There is silence, the lights go out, the audience breaks into applause after a couple of seconds of tense waiting and then I notice Moose shaking with laughter. I can’t stop myself any longer and I embrace him. He answers me, but as soon as the lights come on again, silently indicating that we have to make the final bow, we part as if our contact were cramping. I turn away as he smiles towards the auditorium, hoping that it will not be noticed that I am more upset than I would like to admit. He averts his eyes too but takes my hand before we bow in polite reverence.
I’m like a cloud. I don’t believe what’s happening. I’ve done it. I’ve been on stage. I took off my street-dancer suit and, even for a brief moment, I danced with Camille like I wanted to. It was like it was just the two of us, alone. And when she touched my cheek―something that wasn’t foreseen at the dress rehearsal, by the way―my heart seemed to want to get out of my chest.
Wake up, I say to myself, trying to focus.
What is it about me? What is it about my best friend that makes it so that just twenty seconds with her on stage have been about to push me into committing a crazy act in front of the whole school?
The answer, although uncomfortable, keeps going around in my head without me being able to help it while everyone is congratulating us. Camille and I have separated when our families have arrived, but I am alert as soon as I see Collins, after a short congratulation addressed to the competitors of ‘The Streets’, approaches Cam and her family with a radiant smile. My throat freezes and I look away as soon as I see the Donovans, especially a scorned Catherine, walking around to find out what’s going on―and no wonder why.
Camille Gage, tonight, has lived up to her name. The same one she shares with the tall, light-eyed boy who now rests his hands on her shoulders―Tyler. I sigh and my gaze crosses with Andie’s―yeah, we’d both like to be like him. And I see the guy giving her a discreet congratulatory signal and Andie blushing―I’m hysterically lost. I need to know what that Collins thing is that just caused Nora and Cam’s mom to put their hands in each other’s mouths like they don’t believe it. Even more so when a tall, unknown man comes up to the headmaster and politely greets Camille.
I can’t take it anymore. A cold sweat is starting to run down my back and I know that’s not good―I don’t feel well and I’d rather get out of here. So I apologize to my classmates without much explanation and tell my parents that we can go home. And I must be a great beggar or fake sick person because my mother doesn’t even think about it.
When I walk out the door, I don’t even look back at where Camille is. I couldn’t bear for my suspicions to be true.
“Ah, so you’re here.”
Her voice makes me jump over the window sill. Today I didn’t have the stomach to go back to class or to see anyone, so I climbed into one of the ‘uninhabited’ classrooms on the top floor―those old, dusty rooms that hardly anyone enters anymore because they are almost falling apart, specifically― to look out the window and reflect. But when I look at her, the pain crosses my body again like a whiplash.
Like everyone else, or even better than them, I’ve heard the rumors.
But I didn’t think it would be so difficult for me. Anyway, I’ve already lost her once, haven’t I? I should be hardened to this kind of situation.
“What do you want, Cam?” I ask without barely turning to her. “What are you doing up here?”
Her footsteps stop creaking on the old wood and I know she’s stopped.
“I… I haven’t seen you since last night and… I wanted to talk to you.”
I swallow and clench my fists, trying to dominate myself.
“You don’t have to say anything,” I mutter. “I’ve already heard…”
There is a silence between the two of us until Camille breaks it with a question that I don’t expect.
“What… have you already heard?”
Much to my regret, I let her see my grief-stricken face.
“That you’re leaving,” I repeat sincerely before looking away again. I can’t bear to look at her face knowing I’m going to lose her―again. “About the offer from the New Jersey College of Ballet to go study with them,” I hear her snorting and I add “It’s a unique opportunity and I’m happy for you…”
“Moose, you’re a complete fool.”
Oh, boy. For a moment I thought he was going to confess that he already knew how I felt about him. When he left yesterday without looking at me twice and not having seen him at the MSA all morning, my stomach had become a tighter and tighter knot―was it too obvious? Yes, I know. The cheek thing was too much. But what the hell―I was acting!
But, come on, what has not been my immense peace of mind when my suspicions have been completely misplaced. Still, where are his abilities to find out about things at school if he understood everything backward?
He looks at me again, his eyebrows raised and his lips pressed into a grimace that is very much his own, so I make it clear to him as I approach:
“For your information, I have turned down the place in that ballet” and before he can recover from the surprise and open his mouth, I continue. “Yes, it’s a golden opportunity, but it’s not what I want. Here,” I say, making a gesture above our heads, “I have my family, my people―everything I want.”
“And I would never, ever give that up” I stress before I deflate before his embarrassed little face. “I couldn’t walk away again, Moose. I couldn’t bear it.”
Without wanting to, I smile, even though I’ve been a complete idiot, it’s true.
“So you’re staying?”
I roll my eyes.
“Of course I do, silly. Who else would take care of improving your style in class?”
We smile and get up. But then he does something I don’t expect. With one move, he takes me in his arms and holds me. I scream in surprise and laugh, but then I nod back at him, resting my head on his chest.
“Thank you, Cam” he whispers over my hair before we split.
And I, again containing a somewhat suicidal impulse for our relationship, reposition my backpack with a gesture that pretends to be casual, and push it towards the door while I laugh down again.
“Come on, we’re late for class with Collins.”