The One Real Thing Page 82

I wished that I hadn’t spent years building so many defenses against the pain of the past that it was almost impossible now for me to face it.

I wished that I were brave enough to tell him all about it.

To tell him that once upon a time I did an extraordinary thing to save the one I loved.

An extraordinary and terrible thing.

TWENTY-ONE

Jessica

The music swelled up from the orchestra pit, sweeping the dancer onstage into the air. I watched her, my chest bursting with pride.

Julia.

The happiness, the relief, the overwhelming urge to rush up onstage and grab hold of her, surprised me. It was as if I hadn’t seen her in years instead of weeks.

I felt tears in my eyes as she created beauty, and told a tragic story, with her whole body. She made an ethereal, compelling Odette.

No one could look away from her.

My urgent need to see her, hold her, pulled me out of the spell, and I sat impatiently in the audience waiting for the curtains to fall for the end of the first act.

I found myself pushing rudely past people, ignoring their annoyed mutterings as I hurried backstage. Julia had left word to allow me access, and soon, though it felt like ages, I was trying to weave through the dancers in the corps to my sister’s dressing room.

I took a huge breath when I got to it, my whole body trembling.

Why did it feel like I hadn’t seen her in forever?

“Jules?” I said softly, as I opened the door.

“Come in.”

Pain scored deep across my chest at the sound of her voice.

I felt like weeping with agonized joy.

Inside the small dressing room, she stood up from a chair. I stared at her feet, knowing that inside the shoes they were red and hard. I winced. I didn’t know how she’d put up with the pain over the years.

Julia floated toward me.

That was how it seemed to me.

That was how it had seemed to me for years.

Ballerinas walked differently from the rest of us, gliding, graceful, tall, straight backed. It was confident, regal, strong. So incredibly strong.

My eyes roamed over my beautiful sister. She had soft features like me but hers were buttonlike. Button nose. Rosebud lips. The only similarity was our big hazel eyes.

But the softness of her face, the vulnerability in her round eyes, was in opposition to the strength in her body. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on my sister’s body. She was incredibly slim, every limb shaped by muscle.

Julia had the strongest body of anyone I knew.

After . . . well . . . she became so focused on dancing and her body changed as the music made her stronger and stronger.

But I only had to look deep in her eyes to know her soul was weak and hurting behind its steel cage.

I pushed the thought out of my head and rushed at her. She laughed and immediately held me close. She was taller than me. Always had been, from the age of twelve. It was a running joke between us that I was technically her little sister and not the other way around.

I felt inexplicable anguish choke me, and my grip on her tightened.

“Hey.” She squeezed me back. “Are you okay?”

“You’re beautiful up there, that’s all,” I said, pulling back to memorize her face. It was currently caked in stage makeup. I frowned. “You should take that stuff off as soon as your performance ends.”

She grinned and nodded, pulling away to look into the mirror to check that her makeup and hair were still in place. Once her back was turned to me she asked, “Are Mom and Dad here?”

Anger, hurt, and disappointment were not new feelings to me, but still those feelings chafed as I said, “No, sweetheart. Not this time. But Aunt Theresa is.”

Our parents had never been very involved in our lives, but we both knew they were proud of Julia because they’d actually attended some of her performances. This night was the biggest performance of her life, the night that people from the School of American Ballet were in the audience. This was Julia’s audition for the school of her dreams.

I wanted to tell her I was sorry our parents couldn’t get their heads out of their asses to be there to support her, but I knew that would only make her feel worse. At least we had Theresa, my mother’s little sister. She was always there for us, even when our parents weren’t.

Julia turned to me, love shining out of her eyes. “Thank you for being here. I know how busy you are at school.”

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

“I know.” She rushed toward me and hugged me hard. “You know I love you the best, right?”

I held her tighter. “I love you the best, too.” I reluctantly moved out of her hold. “I better get back to my seat.”

She squeezed my hands. “Do you think I’ll get in?”

Hearing the anxiety in her voice always made me uneasy. Part of me hated that she was so consumed by dance, but the other part of me was grateful that it had been the thing to get her through her trauma. “I know it.”

She gave me a shaky grin and I left her to prepare.

Ignoring the scowls from the people I’d pushed by earlier, I took my seat in the audience again and waited anxiously for the curtain to go back up. I wished I knew who the heck were the representatives from the ballet school.

My heart fluttering in my chest for my sister, I sat tense as the music rose up again and the second act started.

Julia was a perfect ballerina.

I had no doubt of that.

So I didn’t expect it.

I didn’t see it coming.

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