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Unformatted text preview: Way Too Far First In The Way Too Far Series Marilyn Cruise This is a work of fiction. All the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. First Edition, June 12, 2016 ISBN-­‐13: 978-­‐1508481270 ISBN-­‐10: 150848127X E-­‐Book ISBN: 9781311990631 Copyright © 2016 Marilyn Cruise All rights reserved. 2 For anyone who ever danced. 3 Also by Marilyn Cruise The Chapel Series The Black Chapel The White Chapel The Everlasting Chapel Coming Soon: The Way Too Far series Way Too Soon By Marilyn Cruise and J. L. Rush EXMO, Book I in the Bound For Freedom series EXMO 2, book II in the Bound For Freedom series EXMO 3, book III in the Bound For Freedom series 4 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself. ~Shakespeare 5 6 Chapter 1 The problem with a panic attack, is that you never know when it’s going to hurl you into a state of anxiety so severe you can’t think straight, can’t act normal, and can’t even breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Just breathe, I tell myself. The hallway in the von Wood performing arts building is wide with pasty white walls, a horde of university students scurrying from one class to the next. There are too many people here. Too many. Don’t claw at your neck, Anne, I tell myself for the third time since I left home. The dance ensemble members will wonder what happened to my skin and start asking questions the way they did last time the panic hit. I don’t 7 want questions. Bleeding scratch marks equal questions. I just want to be left alone and to dance ballet. Keep walking down the hallway. I’m almost there. I see the white double doors just ahead, roughly 200 feet away. I shouldn’t be this nervous. Suzy, my roommate is walking right beside me and I have been in counseling ever since I was assaulted the second time. So I should be fine. But some days are worse than others. Like today. Since leaving home, I can’t for the life of me seem to calm my anxiety, every man a potential attacker. Suzy and I are like peas in a pod, always arriving at and leaving ballet classes, rehearsals, and school together. She’s the reason I am able to maintain a somewhat normal life. Ever since what happened last year, I refuse to go anywhere alone anymore. I startle when I see a huge guy to my right, beefy shoulders and tall as a basketball player. Good, he’s not looking at me and he just turned to walk in the other direction. Fuck. I am so pathetic. I didn’t used to be like this. Even after the first time I was attacked I was fine walking around on my own. Not now. Breathe. I force my hands down by my sides. My hands are clenching again, my nails digging into my palms like alligator incisors. I swear my shoulders could carry the world if the world needed it—they are that tense. I remind myself what my therapist, Katherine, keeps telling me: that it’s not a big deal to travel from point A to point B. It’s just another trip. Nothing bad will happen. No one will maul me down. People are civilized. And kind. 8 According to Katherine, the problem is that my mind understands all that, but my body doesn’t. On more than one occasion, she has offered to write me a prescription for anti-­‐anxiety medication, but every time, I have declined. I don’t want to get addicted to anything, and I think it’s important I learn how to cope with stressful situations on my own. And I will. One day, Katherine thinks I won’t even think about how at any turn, there could be a stranger waiting to attack me. I believe that will happen, too. But not today. Twenty more steps now. Fifteen. Relax. Ten. Eight. Five. Breathe. Three. Two. One. Thank God I’m finally here. I exhale. When I clamp my fingers around the cold metal door handle, my shoulders drop an inch. My palms are sweaty, but they’ll dry soon. My heart rate will come down. I pull the door open and the gentle breeze caused by the swinging door caresses my face and chest. “You good?” Suzy asks, walking in behind me. “Yes.” I give her a faint smile, though I know full well that I’m not fooling her. She knows everything about my past—the good, the bad…and the unspeakable—and still 9 loves me to pieces, PTSD, crazy rituals, panic attacks, and all. Suzy and I are members of the Florida Ballet Ensemble, the University of Florida’s dance company, which consists of twenty-­‐one dancers. Suzy’s been here a year longer than me, and she’s a skinny, auburn-­‐haired, chain-­‐smoking, outspoken bitch as Paul, a dancer in our ensemble, says. He adores her, as does everyone. I, however, mostly keep to myself and don’t let anyone get too close. I haven’t always been this way. I was happy and bright and social. Trusting. But now I trust no one. It’s safer that way. Walking into the large, rectangular dance studio, the smell of sweat, wood, and vinyl marley dance flooring hits my nostrils. The mirrors covering three of the four walls catch my long, slender reflection and beams of sunlight shine in through the oversized windows above the mirrors. I have found that if I pay attention to the things around me and not to my racing heart, it’s easier to forget about any anxious thoughts. They are almost gone now. The ceiling is high, the walls are painted white, and there’s a black baby grand piano in the corner where Zara sits and accompanies our classes. The way she plays calms my frazzled nerves and truth be told, I don’t know what I’d do without her music. I head straight for the ballet barre. The barre is my home, and once class starts and I can lose myself in the music and movements, my anxiety will melt away into oblivion. At least until the next time I have to mingle with the public. 10 I throw my dance bag onto the floor, place my right hand on the barre, get into first position with my heels together and toes outward, and bend my knees into a plié. I like to stand in the same spot—in the corner opposite the piano—so I can see my reflection in the mirror head on. That way I can correct my arms or legs or torso if my technique isn’t quite correct. Plus, this is right next to where Suzy stands and I don’t want to stand anywhere other than next to her. Since I started college, my life has changed drastically. I used to go to church every week, but I no longer have the time. I also used to be eagerly engaged in animal rights organizations, but again, there’s no time for that. After the first semester, I dropped out of my other major: accounting. I realized if I am to have a chance at becoming a professional dancer at the age of twenty-­‐two—which is extremely late for a dancer to start her career—I need to put all my eggs in one basket. Before coming here, I danced at a strip club in Portland called The Black Chapel for three years. Yeah, going from ballet to stripping and back to ballet again is a pretty far stretch. How does that happen exactly? I’m not sure even I have the answers to that. My parents, Sherri and Dawn, are slightly happier about my choice to go back to school, but my father disapproves of my major, so he decided he didn’t want to contribute to my education. I place both hands on the barre and face the mirror. I take a deep breath and notice how my heart rate has come down. My palms are almost dry, my mouth not as parched. Baby blue eyes stare back at me. 11 At least God did one thing right when he created me. I was born with an almost perfect dancer body. I say almost because the only parts of me that don’t fit the norm are my breasts. They’re not huge, but they’re a C-­‐cup. Most ballerinas have a small A-­‐cup or no cup to speak of—two raisins that stand perky beneath their leotards. I’m not ashamed of my breasts, but I certainly wouldn’t mind it if they were smaller. It would make fitting into the size negative-­‐four tutus and leaping across the floor a heck of a lot easier. My eyes scan my long, slender legs, my thin torso, and finally my narrow shoulders. More than once, my neck has been described as swan-­‐like. My head is small, the arches on my feet high, and my back is so flexible that when I bend backward, I can easily touch my head to my heels. I live in gratitude every day that I was born with the “right” genetics. Not many girls are so lucky. In fact, less than one percent of the world’s population can claim close to perfect ballet genes. The only thing harder to qualify for is to become an astronaut, I hear. I’ve told Suzy I need to come extra early to stretch and perform strengthening exercises in preparation for our next performance: Romeo and Juliet. But the truth is that my right hip has been bothering me lately, and just to be able to dance, I have to warm up thoroughly. I haven’t told anyone about the pain, not even Suzy. If the artistic director learned that I’m injured, I could lose my part in the ballet. The four performances are in one month, and if I can just endure until then and ignore the pain in my hip, I can 12 rest during summer vacation. Dancing Juliet has been my dream role for as long as I can remember, and I’ll be damned if I let a sore hip stand between my dreams and me. “Do you want to come out with us tonight?” Suzy asks, startling me out of my reverie. My heart is suddenly beating hard again. “We’re going dancing at The Bay,” she says. “No thanks. I need to catch up on some homework.” In reality, I don’t go out at all. I just want to finish my degree or be hired to dance with the New York Ballet. “There will be lots of cute guys there,” she says. I press a smile. I have written off men at the moment. And maybe even forever. I don’t need any more trouble, and it seems whenever men come into my life, that’s when the problems start. No one here can see the scar I have from the stab wound. It hides beneath my leotard. Only Suzy knows about it. “You need to have some fun, too.” Suzy inches closer to me as she lunges forward to stretch her hip flexor. Watching her, I feel pain in my own hip. “Dancing is my fun.” She huffs and rolls her eyes. “Or your obsession.” I do throw everything into ballet. The harder I work at it, the less I think about past traumatic experiences. Here I can control what I do. The outside world is scary and dark and I have no control there. Here, I decide. Here, I am the master of my own fate. “You’re obsessed, too. Admit it,” I say with a smirk, pointing and flexing my foot. 13 She chuckles. “I know. But at least on weekends I let myself loose.” I never allow myself to let loose. Katherine says I should, but I’m afraid if I do, the safe new world I have built for myself will vanish into a puff of smoke. I need structure—a sense of control—for control breeds security. And right now, it is what gets me through the day. “Maybe some other time.” I prop my leg up onto the barre to stretch my hamstring. “I have to get in shape for this role or I’ll make a fool of myself on stage.” “You’re a beautiful dancer, Anne. You would never make a fool out of yourself,” she says. There’s no judgment in her voice, and I often wonder how she can be so completely accepting of me, considering my pathetic and scandalous past. I lift my leg off the barre and slide into the splits. Immediately, the ache in my hip returns. Dammit. I had hoped the pain would go away on its own, but it’s been there for three weeks now, and is becoming worse every day. It’s not uncommon for dancers to have aches and pains everywhere and every day—we do pretty much sacrifice our bodies for the sake of the art. Pointe shoes are some of the meanest shoes ever invented, sometimes feeling like seven-­‐inch stiletto heels with blades lining the interior. But this is different. This pain is deep, and it almost feels as if my hip flexor might rip from the bone it’s attached to. And it frightens me more than a little. The rest of the ensemble members start to trickle in. One after another they throw their bags in the corner and sprawl out onto the floor to stretch or take their places by 14 the barre. Thera-­‐bands, tennis balls, and foot-­‐rollers are dragged out, and the smell of tiger balm infuses the air. “Hey, Anne.” Paul, the dancer who is my Romeo in Romeo and Juliet jogs by me with that mischievous smile of his. He always runs loops around the studio to warm up before class. And he smiles ninety-­‐nine percent of the time, revealing huge white teeth. “Good morning, Romeo.” I grin and bat my eyelashes, pretending he’s my real lover. He’s a nice enough guy, and extremely easy on the eyes with blond hair and bright blue eyes. Plus, he’s safe. He’d never hurt me. That I know. But he’s nothing more than a friend. He has asked me out a few times, and we’ve made casual conversation in between classes and rehearsals, but whenever he attempts to get too close, I remind him that I’m committed to not dating while I’m in college. He has suggested we just sleep together for the hell of it, no commitments. I’m pretty sure he’s not serious about it, but either way, I’m just not that kind of girl. Yes, I stripped for a living, but I won’t have sex with just any guy in order to get a little physical pleasure out of it. When I give myself to someone for the first time, I want it to be because I love him and he loves me. Call me old-­‐ fashioned, but after what I’ve been through, I want that real first time to be special. Paul runs a couple more laps around the room, and then he heads for the barre on the other side—his usual spot—and performs a series of push-­‐ups on the floor. His upper body is strong, and I bet if I tried, I’d be able to bounce a quarter off his ass. 15 The room goes completely silent when Mr. E, our artistic director, walks in, and every dancer rises to his or her feet to show respect. My heart always seems to beat a little faster the second he enters; I’m nervous he’ll call me out or be unsatisfied with the neatness of my appearance. One time he sent me home because a few wisps of hair had come loose around my bun. Ever since then, I am fanatical about slicking my hair back and use gobs of gel and hairspray to keep it in place. Like today, I always wear clean, pink tights, a black leotard, light make-­‐up, and only two small diamond studs adorn my ears. Mr. E’s white, thick hair looks messier than usual, making him appear slightly more like a mad scientist than on other days, and his cane beats against the floor as he walks forward with a limp. I’ve received a whack or two from that cane in my early dance days in the ensemble when I wasn’t fully focused. It quickly taught me to always give 100 percent no matter how I felt. And it made me that much of a better dancer. In behind Mr. E, a young man enters. Oh—wow. I try not to stare at the newcomer, but I can’t help it. My eyes are drawn to him like a magnet to metal. The young man is GQ handsome, and he looks to be in his mid-­‐twenties. But what makes him stand out even more is his dark, bottomless eyes and sun-­‐kissed chestnut, curly, messy hair. Immediately, I find myself wanting to run my fingers through his locks and tug at them gently. My chest clenches tightly. Not like when I’m having a panic attack. This is 16 different. Quite pleasant, in fact—an ache that resides in my bones and lower abdomen. He doesn’t look or walk like a dancer, but he is definitely in great physical condition with broad, defined shoulders and back, impeccable posture, and flat abs that hide beneath his loose, light blue, button up shirt. The sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, revealing veined, muscular arms, and the top button is undone, showing off the pinnacle of a firm chest. I glance at Suzy, whose mouth is slightly open. Why is he here? I wonder. 17 Chapter 2 The young man glances my way, and when our gazes connect, a ripple of desire shoots from my heart and down my core, causing me to shiver. His eyes are black— intense—and it’s as if a sea of passion sleeps beyond them—or slept beyond them, because now it would seem the passion is unleashed toward me. What. The. Hell? I’ve managed to stay away from any guy the past year and a half, and haven’t even found anyone remotely interesting or attractive, but with just one look at this stranger, my lower belly fills with…lust? “Dancers, please welcome Scott Fischer. He is our accompanist.” Mr. E explains no more than that. Our accompanist. For how long? For today? For a week? For forever? 18 And where is Zara, our regular pianist, an old, Russian lady who has accompanied our ballet classes ever since I got here? She used to play for Mr. E when he first started dancing in Russia and she’s not once missed a day. No one is as good as her, and I like that she keeps me on top of the music, throwing me a steely gaze that makes me want to sink into the earth if I don’t follow her beat. She pushes me to become a better dancer, and as I prepare for my role as Juliet, I desperately need that stern, angry glare when I’m off. This can’t be happening! This stranger, though he’s much easier on the eyes than the hefty, wrinkled old Russian pianist, he can’t possibly be as competent as Zara the Great, as we’ve nicknamed her. I sigh and squeeze my lips together. Dammit. My entire dance class will be ruined. But if it’s only for today, I think I’ll be able to manage somehow. Scott sits down behind the black baby grand and looks to Mr. E as if waiting for his cue. What…no notes? Obviously, he doesn’t know the ins and outs of accompanying an almost professional ballet class. I glance at Paul across the room and his normally jovial expression has turned sour. Oh, no. If he’s frowning… “This is going to be interesting,” Suzy whispers as she glares at the hot new intruder. “Just because he’s sex on legs doesn’t mean he can play.” Wait. Did I actually say that out loud? Suzy’s eyes widen and she produces one of those deep, guttural chuckles and raises her right eyebrow. Mr. E proceeds to gives us instruction for pliés, and then sits down at the front of the room. 19 I take first position at the barre along with the other dancers. The piano music starts and notes flow through the room, tugging at my heartstrings, sending tingles of delight down my spine. I cannot believe my ears. In fact, in less than five seconds, I’m completely blown away. I glance at Paul on the opposite side, and he is grinning, telling me he, too, is pleasantly surprised. The melody seems to help me move, and I find myself wanting to express the music in a way I never have before. My eyes steal toward the trespasser behind the piano, and a flurry of butterflies swarm in my belly. Who is this guy? I work through the barre exercises one after the other, the next melody even more beautiful than the previous one. Scott is an even better accompanist than Zara, if I dare say so, and that’s saying a lot. I just wish my right hip didn’t hurt so I could fully give myself to the music, but in every exercise I find myself holding back. As barre progresses, I notice how Scott isn’t even looking at the keys on the piano. His eyes wander the room, stopping briefly at each dancer. When his gaze meets mine across the divide, my heart pounds in my chest. There’s nothing demure about his eyes; they’re intense and demanding, so passionate that I find it difficult—bordering on impossible—to look away. The longer we hold each other’s gaze, the deeper I am drawn into his nearly penetrating stare and it’s almost as if he commands some unforeseen power over me that won’t let me go until he says it’s time to. I want to stop moving because my limbs feel like jelly. However, fearing Mr. E will notice I am focusing on something other than the 20 combination at hand and will admoni...
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