Lyrical: Chapter 19


Pen

“So, girl. You and Mr Hip-Hop, eh?” Clancy asks me in tap class the following day.

She’s tying up her shoes and grinning up at me as I sit on the bench beside her, waiting for our teacher, Sasha, to start the lesson. She’s a brilliant tap dancer, no more than ten years older than us and hot as fuck. Seriously, if I wasn’t into men, then I’d be into her. Tall, with an hourglass figure, shapely legs, and dark cocoa skin. She has rhythm, soul, boundless energy, and endless patience. A perfect combination for dancing and teaching tap.

I watch, distractedly, as she chats with York on the opposite side of the studio. He’s giving her one of his smiles that he used to share in abundance with me growing up, but hasn’t thrown my way since we clapped eyes on each other again. It’s clear that she’s taken a liking to York, which doesn’t surprise me in the least because he’s hands down the best tap dancer at the school bar Clancy, who gives him a run for his money on a daily basis.

“Pen, are you seriously going to avoid the subject?” Clancy presses with a cheeky smile. When I don’t answer immediately, she sits upright and nudges me with her shoulder. “Like, I held off asking you about it the moment you snuck back into the Academy last night—”

“Wait, were you spying on us?” I laugh, shaking my head.

“What can I say, I was going to the laundry room and saw you snogging each other’s faces off.” She shrugs, giggling.

“You were going to the laundry room at midnight?”

“Yup, sure fire way to piss off Tiffany, given her flat is right next door to it. Nothing like a washing machine to keep someone up at night.”

“You’re brilliant, do you know that?”

“She fucking deserves it for what she’s done to you. Fucking bitch. I don’t know how you didn’t punch her lights out. I still can, if you want. Dax too. Just say the word.”

“Seriously, it’s fine,” I say, shaking my head.

“Anyway, stop avoiding the subject. I can’t contain my curiosity a moment longer. I mean, you don’t have to tell me all the gory details about your date or anything but, you know, just the fun ones.” She wiggles her eyebrows and I groan, realising I need to give her something or she’ll never leave me alone.

“It’s new, okay. We’ve called a truce—”

“What does that mean? Friends or friends that fuck?” she interrupts with a gleeful expression.

Friends,” I reply adamantly, pissed that my cheeks are flaring and giving away what my heart so desperately wants, even when I can’t completely admit that to myself. “We’re taking things slow.”

“I’ll put that down as a friends that might be fucking soon then?”

“Oh, shut up,” I respond, shoving her lightly.

She giggles, then stands and proceeds to perform a quick ball-heel shuffle sequence that boggles my mind at how fast she can move her feet. I grin up at her as she pulls a crazy face and flings her arms out wildly. I can’t help but laugh.

“You know you’re a crazy bitch, right?” I say when she finally stops moving.

“Me?” she questions, pressing her finger into her chest, then cocking her head to the side. “Yep. It’s why you love me.”

“You’re right, it is,” I agree, laughing as she pulls me upright and into a hug.

“All joking aside, just be careful, okay? I like your heart and I don’t want it broken,” she says, squeezing me a little tighter before letting me go. I see the sincerity and concern in her eyes, and it warms me up from the inside out. What she doesn’t realise is that my heart has been in pieces for three years, now a part of it is slowly being stitched back together.

“I will, you don’t need to worry. I know what I’m doing,” I say, sounding more convinced than I am. Truth is, I’m wading through a quagmire of emotions and memories so thick that I’m not sure how to just be in the moment. Not to mention, I’m on edge waiting for my brother to call, or Jeb to rear his ugly head again at any moment. This truce with Zayn not only serves to remind me of what I’ve missed these past three years and why, but also that whilst I may have Zayn back, I don’t have the rest of the Breakers. They all hold a piece of my heart and I’m resigned to the fact that it will never beat properly again unless we fix what’s broken which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen. Xeno still hates me, and apart from my confrontation with Dax the other night, he and York have been avoiding me as much as I’ve been avoiding them. Not to mention the small fact my brother’s a fucking psycho and determined to murder anyone I hold dear if I don’t do what he wants.

“Come on, girl. Let’s tap all that frustration out, yeah?” Clancy says, snapping me out of my dark thoughts.

“Yeah, let’s do this,” I nod, following her and finding a spot at the back of the class and as far away from York as I can get.

After a good ten minutes warm-up that has my blood pumping and has relieved some of my pent up anxiety, Sasha asks us to fan out in a circle, leaving a wide open space in the middle of the studio.

“Right, ladies and gents, I’m going to do something a little different today. Most of you here already have many years’ experience in performing tap, and I’ve now gotten a good hold of your ability. So, I wanted to explore a little more. I want to see your improvisation skills. Every single one of you can follow choreography, but tap is so much more than just a sequence of steps and noise. It can be as emotive and as deeply powerful as any of the other disciplines if performed with enough intent.”

She smiles then and moves into the centre of the circle we’ve made and begins to tap in a way that wows me, proving her point. Like everyone else in the studio, I’m stunned by her quick footwork, but it’s her ability to tell a story through her steps that impresses me the most. Dance has always been about expression to me, and for a long time I assumed that tap could only really express happiness just like Fred Astaire in his movies. It’s why I was drawn more to hip-hop and contemporary as a kid, because with those two dances in particular I felt able to express my anger and pain the most clearly. I’ve learnt over the years, however, that tap dance isn’t always an expression of joy, that there’s a lot more depth to the dance than that.

Sasha moves over the wooden boards with lightning speed interspersed with moments of clarity and intentional delay. She’s telling a story, and she’s doing it all with a smile plastered on her face that, in my opinion, juxtaposes what she’s trying to express with her feet. This dance isn’t a happy one. It’s one of frustration and anger. Someone must’ve pissed her off royally to influence her dance this way.

“Can anyone tell me what they felt when watching me dance just now?” she asks the room. If it sounds like a trick question, that’s probably because it is. She’s trying to catch people out with that same smile plastered on her pretty face. I keep my thoughts to myself though because I’m not as certain of myself in this dance lesson as I am in my others.

“Anyone?” she presses.

“I felt anger,” York finally says, pinning his gaze on Sasha.

“Good.” She nods. “What else?”

“Frustration,” I blurt out, cutting off Clancy before she can say the same. She looks at me and winks.

“Excellent. The expression on my face gave you one picture,” she says, plastering that same pretty smile back on again, “but my steps were telling the truth. That’s the heart of tap dance. Its truth is always in the steps.” She points to her feet and does a quick sequence that speaks of joy even though her face is a blank mask. “See, I’m happy you got it even when that might not appear to be the case.”

“I like this woman,” Clancy says, leaning in close. “I might have a girl crush.”

Smiling, I look about the room. “Yeah, you and about twenty other people.”

My gaze falls onto York who is looking at Sasha like she’s all his dreams come true. I see the admiration in his eyes and interest that has my heart bottoming out. They look good together, his pale skin against her beautiful, silky chocolate shade. Like Ying and Yang. I’m sure they’d make beautiful babies. Jealousy raises its ugly head and I bite down on the inside of my cheek. It’s one thing giving Clancy his attention when practising their duet, but quite another when he’s looking at Sasha the way he is. I trust Clancy not to overstep, but Sasha has no reason to stay away. York is beautiful, talented, and whilst he might be her student, that won’t prevent him from making a move. York has always been the type of guy to flagrantly ignore rules. He’s also the type of guy to get everyone else to break them too.

“Okay, so this is what we’re going to do. I’m going to play a randomly selected song and then tap one of you on the shoulder. If I’ve picked you, you need to move into the circle and start improvising,” Sasha explains. “I want you to show whatever emotion the song makes you feel in your steps, regardless of what mask you wear on your face. Let’s see how well you interpret the music and how well you express those emotions.”

“So we interpret the music with an emotion and funnel that into our steps, but try not to show that on our face?” one of the other students asks, wanting to clarify.

“Exactly that, but to make it more challenging, I’m going to select another person to dance too. That person will need to counter, or complement, whatever emotion is portrayed in your partner’s steps with an interpretation of your own. Once the song is finished, I’ll play another and choose two more people to dance together. We’ll do that until you’ve all had a chance to dance.”

“Kind of like a hip-hop battle?” a guy with short, spiky green hair and a ring in his nose asks. I think his name is Amos, but I can’t be certain.

“Yes, in a way,” Sasha agrees, “But rather than a battle where there can only be one winner, I want cohesion by the end of the song. Now, let’s see how you fare.”

Sasha pulls out her mobile phone and chooses a song I don’t recognise but has an up-tempo beat. She selects Clancy first who steps into the circle and wows us all with her ridiculous talent. It’s clear that joy is the emotion she’s chosen to express in her dance steps despite the cross look on her face. Her feet move lightly, and her steps are suffused with happiness, bliss. The way she dances reminds me of a kid on Christmas morning. I see the excitement, the wonderment and, of course, joy. When Sasha taps on Amos’s shoulder, he counters Clancy’s steps with deep digs and heavy shuffles of his feet. He stomps over the floor, stepping into her space even though he has a smile plastered to his face. Eventually, the pair start to dance in time together, mashing up the joy Clancy is expert at showing and the misery Amos displays. By the time the song ends they’re both panting with the effort, but grinning widely. We all start clapping. They’re a tough act to follow.

“Excellent work,” Sasha says, beaming.

For the next thirty minutes she moves around the circle pairing up dancers. My heart hammers in my chest with every selection she makes and every time I think she’s going to choose me, she doesn’t. When the penultimate pair have been chosen and begin to dance, I zone out knowing that the only person left for me to be paired up with is York.

Damn, girl,” Clancy mutters as York’s ice-blue eyes meet mine over the pair dancing in the circle between us. She reaches for me, her fingers wrapping around my wrist in solidarity. I swallow hard. I’m not ready for this.

I’m not fucking ready.

A broad smile pulls across York’s face as Sasha asks him to step into the centre of the circle. That smile doesn’t reach his eyes and is as much of a mask as the one I’m wearing now. When she motions for me to come forward, I do so with heavy steps. Sasha chooses a new song, and as Running up that Hill by Kate Bush begins to play, York’s smile slips. For the briefest second I see the hate in his eyes before his features fix into a blank mask that matches my own. As the familiar beat begins to play, York starts to dance. It’s blatantly obvious the emotion he’s trying to portray and even if I hadn’t caught the look in his eyes, I would’ve understood him well enough.

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