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Freestyle: Chapter 3

Present Day

“How do you know him?” Clancy asks me, her voice rising with interest. “He’s amazing.”

“We grew up on the same estate… he moved away. I haven’t seen him in three years. We barely know each other,” I lie, trying to make my voice sound light, unaffected. “I doubt he even remembers me.”

“Oh, I think he remembers you alright. He keeps looking over at you every chance he gets… Whoa!” she suddenly blurts out as Zayn backflips from a standing position then drops to the floor, spinning on his back, only to jerk back upwards on his forearm before flipping to his feet again. A smug look drags across his face as he regards the room, he’s barely breaking a sweat. His gaze meets mine and I see the fire there, and the anger.

He always danced best when he was angry.

Well, fuck him. I’m angry too. I’ve been angry for three fucking years.

“Holy shit on a stick!” Clancy exclaims excitedly. She’s not the only one whose mouth has popped open. There isn’t one person in the room not impressed by Zayn’s moves, his ability. Yeah, he’s still shit-hot.

Zayn was the frontman of our crew even if he wasn’t the leader. Confident, arrogant and the best dancer of us all. At least back when we were friends anyway. York came in a close second. Me and Dax were on an equal footing and Xeno was the best allrounder and also the leader. What he said went, no matter what.

“Did you just see that?”

I don’t respond. Of course, I did. I’m not fucking blind. Though, right now I would gouge my own eyes out with a wooden spoon if I had one to hand so I wouldn’t have to look at the boy I once loved dance with such fury and fire. With such passion. My stomach rolls over. If I wasn’t in the mood for small talk earlier, I’m even less so now. I can’t believe he’s here. The consequences of him being back will be catastrophic for me… I force that thought away. I have to get through this audition.

He continues to dance, throwing in his signature moves. Hip-hop was always his speciality and Zayn was never afraid to innovate. He knows all the steps: popping, locking, tutting, gliding, robotting. He can do them all. The key with Zayn is that he takes a classic hip-hop dance move and makes them his own. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen him do a windmill then rise up on his arms and literally launch himself into the air into some crazy arse move no one has ever seen before.

He’s a genius.

Right now he’s freestyling. Just moving to the music, anticipating the next beat to drop, and delivering every time. I can tell that he hasn’t practiced this routine over and over to get it perfect like the rest of us have done. This is Zayn dancing from his soul. That was always something he was so proud of, being able to cut up a dance floor and wipe the floor with his opponents in a battle from sheer ability and musical rhythm. He’s still amazing. In fact he’s better than amazing. He’s outstanding.

That only makes this so much harder.

I groan internally. There’s no way he won’t be given a spot at the academy after this. When he finishes up with a well-placed freeze, his hands flat on the floor, the side of his head pressed against the wooden floorboards and his torso lifted off the ground with his legs bent, the room roars with appreciation. Clancy is clapping her hands like a kid on Christmas morning, but all I can do is sit with a stiff back and cold dread trying not to look at his six pack on show.

Why?” I whisper, my question lost beneath the noise. Why has he come back now? Why is he here of all places? Why is he looking at me like I’m the one who fucked everything up? Why does my stupid heart hurt so damn much? Why? Why? Why?

As if hearing my silent questions, Zayn stands and locks eyes with me, jerking his chin. He’s offering me out, just like he would an opponent in a battle. Unlike a battle, this challenge won’t end once the music stops.

No. I recognise that look. It’s the one he saves just for his enemies.

Looks like that’s me.

“Thank you, Zayn. Take a seat,” Madame Tuillard says, holding her hands up to quieten the room. He gives her a nod, then flicks his gaze to D-Neath who gives him a sly wink that no one else seems to notice given they’re all looking directly at Miss Prim-and-Proper.

I smell a rat.

“He is mag-nif-i-cent,” Clancy says, drawing out the word like she’s praying to a new god. I look at her and notice the lust in her eyes and roll my own. I refuse to acknowledge the pang in my chest. He was always a babe magnet. That seems to have intensified over the years.

“Sure,” I mutter, forcing myself to look at Madame Tuillard and not track Zayn’s every move back to his spot in the corner of the room.

I refuse to give him the satisfaction.

For the next half an hour, ten more dancers, including Clancy, get up and audition. Of them all, Clancy was by far the best. Tap is her specialism and she knocks it out the park with quick footwork, musicality, and incredible expression. If York were here, he’d be impressed. The guy loved Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Junior, imitating their moves from the old movies he used to watch on repeat. All self-taught. I used to love that about him, his exuberance and fascination with all the old black and white movies. Whilst the others messed about and played table football, we would huddle up on a beat-up sofa together in the basement of Jackson Street and watch all the old films. I was his Ginger Rogers once upon a time…

FuckStop it!

Seeing Zayn has opened up old wounds and painful memories that I’ve long since buried. I can’t afford to think about him, about any of them. I just need to get through this audition and figure out what to do after. Shaking my head, I grit my teeth and wait my turn, choosing instead to go mentally through my dance steps.

“Who’s next?” Madame Tuillard muses, consulting her list before she glances over at D-Neath. He looks down at his clipboard, taking his time to decide. I tap my finger against my leg, barely holding onto my nerves. I need to audition so I can get out of here and away from Zayn and everything he represents.

“Penelope Scott.”

My head whips around as I focus on D-Neath who is looking at the room expectantly. Relief at finally being called and a deep, gut-wrenching nausea simultaneously fills me. Clancy nudges me in the side when I don’t get up immediately, a sudden rush of terror keeping me still.

“You’re up, Pen. Knock ‘em dead,” she grins, and I grimace, not used to getting any support let alone encouragement, particularly as she has no idea if I can dance or not.

“Fuck,” I mutter, unfurling myself.

Standing, I dig deep. I know I’m a good dancer, even if having Zayn here is fucking with my head. Forcing my nerves away, I refuse to let his appearance ruin my one and only opportunity to prove my worth. I’m not a hopeless dreamer like my mum accuses me of being on a daily basis. I’m not worthless for wanting more from life than working in a bar every weekend serving guys who just see a girl they want to fuck or an opponent they want to beat in a battle for kudos.

I’m Pen. I’m more than what people perceive me to be. I can dance. I am worth something.

Funnelling that energy and the righteous anger I feel whenever I think of my mum and her cutting barbs and endless disappointment, I take up my spot in the middle of the dance floor. The assistant, who’s been loading music into the surround-sound for every auditionee before me, looks at me with a question on his face. “There doesn’t appear to be any request for music?”

“I’m not dancing to music,” I tell him.

He gives me a surprised look. “What?”

“I’m not dancing to music,” I repeat, my jaw gritting at the familiar scoff I hear. Fucking Zayn.

The guy shrugs and I hear him mutter ‘it’s your funeral’ under his breath. Arsehole.

“When you’re ready then…” Madame Tuillard comments. She’s perched on the edge of the desk looking at me with interest. Breathing in deeply, I refuse to look at Zayn though I can feel his stare. It fucking burns my skin.

Well, fuck him. FUCK HIM.

Dropping my head, I count for five seconds before I look up. My chest is heaving as I stare directly at Zayn and jerk my chin. You want a battle, you’ve got one. He’s careful to hide his reaction, but I know him well enough. The hard line of his lips, the muscle ticking in his jaw and the tautness of his shoulders tell me what I want to know. I’m affecting him as much as he’s affecting me.


Spinning on the ball of my left foot, I fold over at my hips and kick my right leg out, pivoting in an imperfectly perfect circle then launch my body forward into a front flip. I land gently, the firmness of the wooden boards creaking slightly beneath my feet.

The room descends into quiet, and I know I have them all in the palm of my hand. I’m not arrogant, not by a long shot. Deep within I’m fucking trembling with anxiety, with my mother’s words telling me I’m not good enough. But dance has always been freeing to me. Whatever shit is going on in my life, it falls away the minute I move my body. Over the years I’ve perfected my mash-up between hip-hop and contemporary, combining the two disciplines. I’m strong, precise with every step. But more importantly, I dance with every single cell in my body, with every last part of me.

This isn’t the time for holding back. I need this spot at the academy. I need this so fucking bad.

Dropping to my knees, I lean forward onto my hands and lift my whole weight off the floor, acing the turtle with ease. Back when I was friends with the Breakers I was never able to pull this move off. I’ve been practising. When I flip back upwards, I catch Zayn’s gaze. He’s scowling and I almost laugh. If I didn’t have a routine to finish, I would have laughed in his fucking face. Shutting him out, I let go of the rigidity of hip-hop and switch into the free-flowing movements of contemporary. Loosening up my rib cage and limbs, I twist and turn my body in time with the beat only I can hear inside my head.

Then I lose myself to the dance.

It takes over.

Filling me up.

When I dance, I’m free.

Free from expectation. Free from responsibility. Free from my past. Free from my mother’s hate. Free from the drudgery of a life with no prospects. I’m even free from my own feelings. The Breakers can’t touch me when I dance.

I’m untouchable.

I move with passion and purpose, my feet barely touching the floor. I’m flying over the wooden boards, lost in the magic that always seems to burn in my veins when I dance. I don’t look at anyone. Not Madame Tuillard, not D-Neath, not Clancy or any of the other dancers watching my every move.

Not even Zayn.

Especially not Zayn.

I twist and turn, gliding over the floor. I use every single part of my body to express myself, from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. Flipping forward in a tumble I land purposely on my arse with my legs straight out in front of me. Sweat dribbles down between my breasts as I flip onto my stomach, then crawl on my hands and knees, swaying my hips seductively. A deep cough has my eyes snapping up and as I curve my back forcing my arse and head upwards, I lock gazes with Zayn. His eyes spark dangerously, giving me pause. Once upon a time I would’ve seen stars in his night-time eyes, laughter, kindness, friendship and belonging. Now I see nothing but an endless darkness that makes me wonder what he’s been involved in over the last three years. For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, I wink at him and smile slowly.

Anger flashes in his gaze, but beneath that I sense something more. Ignoring the scorching heat burning beneath my skin, I slide into the splits before bringing my legs together and flipping backwards into an arch. I’m light as a feather, as sharp as a knife.

I’m me.

Dancing has always been a personal experience. Even when I was part of the Breakers, I was always a single unit within the whole. Yes, we danced together. We perfected our moves, synchronised our routine, but we rarely got close enough to really dance with each other like partners might in ballroom or Latin… or bachata.


God that dance. So fucking sensual, so sexy.

So, Xeno….

By complete chance, I found out one afternoon just how much he adored bachata. About two years after I was first introduced to the crew, I walked in on Xeno dancing with a girl in the basement of Jackson Street. It was a rainy day, and the rest of the guys were late to arrive. Neither Xeno nor the girl had heard me entering the room. He had no idea I was watching his every move. I’d stood in the doorway transfixed as he practically fucked the girl with his dance moves. They might have been wearing clothes, but the way they undulated against each other had made my cheeks burn, my heart pound, and an intense kind of jealousy writhe in my stomach like a pile of hissing snakes.

I’d only ever seen him dance hip-hop, nothing else. But the way he moved. The sway of his hips, the sensual slide of his feet over the ground and the gentle but possessive way he held this girl threw me into a tailspin. It was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. Before that point, I hadn’t fancied any of the boys. They were my friends, that was it. But that day, that day I fell hard for Xeno.

Zayn might have been my first friend crush, but Xeno had been my first real boy crush. Hormones had well and truly kicked in at that point. Over the coming months I found myself falling for each of them one by one…

Until I’d loved them wholly and completely.

Forcing those painful memories away, I catch a glimpse of myself in the wall to ceiling mirror as sweat pours from my alabaster skin, plastering my hair against my head and brightening my cheeks with red spots as I move. I’m not sure how long I’ve been dancing for, but eventually, finally, my dance comes to a natural end. Panting, I finish off with a gentle sway of my body then stop, dropping my head and hunching my shoulders as my chest heaves with exertion.

I can hear nothing over the rush of blood pumping through my veins. When my racing heart finally settles enough, the room is silent. There’s no clapping. There are no cheers like Zayn had experienced.

Just pin-dropping silence.

My heart fucking sinks. Have I just thrown away my one chance at a future in dance? Did I just royally fuck up? Should I have stuck to contemporary on its own? Perhaps I was foolish breaking up my routine with hip-hop moves. Were they too stark amongst the fluidity of contemporary?


I look up slowly, my throat tightening with anxiety, and find myself locking eyes with Zayn once more. Why, in my most vulnerable moment, do I seek him out?

Because he was your rock once, that’s why.

And yet, all I see when I look into his eyes is malice. It’s cold, vicious, and bordering on maniacal. I’m sure if he could cackle like some fucked-up psychopath in one of those Marvel movies he used to love watching and get away with it, I bet he fucking would.

My heart sinks.

No, it plummets.

Sighing heavily I move towards my spot amongst the other dancers, wanting the fucking floor to swallow me up. Except, somebody starts clapping, stopping me dead in my tracks. I look over at Madame Tuillard who is watching me with interest.

“Bravo,” she says, her hands coming together over and over again in time with the crazy pounding of my heart. “Don’t look so surprised, that was quite extraordinary.”

Extraordinary?” I chirrup, like some psycho parrot. My skin is flushed with heat, burning under her scrutiny. I realise the whole room is staring at me. Some of the dancers look at me with respect, but a hell of a lot more with barely veiled envy. It brims in their eyes.

“Yes, extraordinary,” she says to me before turning her attention to the rest of the dancers. “Despite my specialism, and the assumptions that come with dancing ballet, I appreciate passion over perfection, grit over cowardice, innovation over stagnation. The rest of you who are yet to dance, take note. To be able to follow dance steps is one thing, to be a true dancer who cannot live without movement, quite another.”

I’m too gobsmacked to speak let alone move, so I simply stand like a moron whilst Madame Tuillard looks me up and down. She’s not being rude, simply curious, like she’s trying to work me out. I swallow hard, studying her as much as she studies me.

“Please sit, Penelope,” Madame Tuillard says after a moment. She gives me a warm smile that she hasn’t shared with any other dancer until now. Even after Zayn’s impressive routine, she’d remained neutral.

“It’s Pen,” I blurt out.

For a fraction of a second I look over at Zayn and am reminded of the connection we once shared. A connection born from a love of dance, a crappy upbringing, and a loyalty to one another that, once upon a time, every single one of the Breakers would’ve died to protect. Apparently, that connection has well and truly been severed.

“Well, Pen, please take a seat whilst the remaining dancers audition.”

I nod tightly and do as she asks, sitting back down next to Clancy.

“Oh. My. God. You were fucking amazing!” Clancy exclaims, wrapping her arm around my shoulder and drawing me into her side. I’m too spaced out to shake her off. I’m not used to such overt appreciation. Instead of thanking her, I kind of just grunt and wrap my arms back around my legs, watching Madam Tuillard as she takes a seat next to D-Neath and whispers something in his ear. He nods, his gaze flicking over to the corner of the room, to the spot where Zayn is sitting. Whipping my head around, my spine stiffens as a look passes between the two.

Another hour later, the final dancer completes her audition and Madame Tuillard dismisses us all. “Thank you for coming today. If any of you are lucky enough to be offered a place, you will be called by Friday and expected to start on Monday when induction week starts. Unsuccessful candidates will receive a letter in the post.”

With that she glides out of the room, D-Neath following her with a smirk. I watch him as he leaves and notice that, yet again, he meets Zayn’s gaze, a silent conversation happening between them. Goddamn it. They’re up to something, but it’s not as if I can ask. I’d rather cut out my tongue than have a conversation with Zayn right now.

The room empties, but I take my time gathering my stuff hoping Zayn will leave and I don’t have to face him. It’s one thing to exchange glances, however heated they might be, quite another to actually have a conversation. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in his company.

I should’ve fucking known he wouldn’t let me off that easy.

“Sweet moves, Cherry. I like your style,” he says, completely blanking me as he congratulates Clancy. I stiffen at his closeness, gritting my jaw. Still, I refuse to look at him. Instead, I concentrate on Clancy whose cheeks are flaming under his compliment.

“It’s Clancy… and thanks,” she mutters. She glances between me and Zayn, understanding that there’s a connection, sensing the animosity and wondering why neither of us are acknowledging it.

“I know, but you sure do seem like a Cherry. Sweet, curvy and something I’d sure like a taste of. Me and my crew will be at Rocks Friday night. Come,” he says, making sure to smile around the innuendo when my head snaps around to look at him.


Clancy splutters, her mouth popping open and closed like a damn fish out of water. He’s fucking coming on to her. My gut churns.

I shouldn’t care. I don’t fucking care.

“Over my dead body,” I say through gritted teeth. I might not know Clancy all that well yet, but she seems like a good person and I refuse to let her be used by Zayn. He was always a ladies’ man, at least until I revealed my feelings towards him. Then it was different.

Leaning in close, Zayn chuckles evilly. “That’s what I’m counting on, Pen.”

With that, he twists on his feet and walks away.

“What was that all about?” Clancy asks, her eyes widening. “Did he just ask me to Rocks on Friday night?”

“Clancy, I don’t think that’s a…”

She pulls a face. “Girl, I’m not a complete moron. I know he wasn’t asking because he wanted me there. He was doing that to make you jealous or some shit. Want to tell me what the hell is going on?”

I shake my head. “That’s not a conversation I want to have today. If ever,” I add.

“Fair enough. Look, I’m going to be straight with you. He’s fit and all that, but it’s always chicks before dicks for me. I’m guessing he’s off limits?”

My silence is answer enough.

“Well then, I won’t touch him with a bargepole. Okay?”

I nod tightly. “Okay.”



“That shouldn’t stop us from going to Rocks. I’ve always wanted to check it out. It’ll either be a night to celebrate, or commiserate, or both. What do you say?”

“Sure. I finish my shift there at midnight anyway.”

“Wait? What? You work at Rocks? Why didn’t you say so?”

“I just did,” I shrug.

Looks like Friday night’s going to be interesting.


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