Sunday, 28 June 2009


welcome to friends and followers - both old and new!

Welcome to the brand new site - I hope you like it! Over the next few weeks, I'll be putting up more chapters, so you'll all have a chance to read BA in its entirety - [hopefully!] Please feel free to comment on all of the posts as much as possible - your feedback means so much to me!
So sit back, relax, and start reading!

Look forward to hearing from you!

Cle xoxo

[cle's book list / beautiful awakenings update]

Hey Everyone!
OK, so brand new beautiful awakenings is officially up!! it doesn't look like a lot but i understand its a lot to get through and takes time, unlike looking at a photograph or listening to a song - but if everyone manages to do this for me, words will be unable to express my appreciation - this thing has been like my baby so its very important to me, and i just hope everyone likes it!
the rest of chapter four [the beautiful and the damned] will be on its way very, very soon!

For now, here's a little bit of what I'm reading / on my reading list:

1. eat, pray, love; one woman's search for everything - elizabeth gilbert
2. reading lolita in tehran - azar nafisi
3. a thousand splendid suns - khaled hosseini
4. go ask alice - anonymous
5. delta of venus - anais nin
6. fugitive pieces - anne michaels
7. anna karenina - tolstoy
8. wuthering heights - bronte
9. the duchess - amanda foreman
10. the pirate's daughter - margaret cezair thompson
11. the host - stephenie meyer
12. essays in love - alain de botton
13. outliers - malcolm gladwell
14. the secret - rhonda byrne

P.S for those of you who have not read the twilight saga, go buy the special editions with the lovely new red pages - a must have!

4. [the beautiful and the damned]

Stacie Anderson, [Gramercy Park Hotel, Gramercy, New York City, NY]

“Happy Birthday”. Daniel said as he looked at me and smiled, flashing his teeth at me as he gazed down, his eyes sweeping across every part of my face.
“Kiss me.” I said to him, as I looked up at him. His hand came up, and held my face in his as he bent his head slowly, so that his lips brushed softly against mine. My lips pressed down upon his and kissed him back, this time with more passion and desire, as I closed my eyes as I allowed myself to become completely wrapped up and lost in the moment.
I looked around as I stood beside Daniel; the largest balcony at the biggest party of the year was thoroughly deserted, with not one person in sight. I turned back towards Daniel again and looked out over the horizon, before looking up to see the stars in the sky twinkling back at me, as if they were winking.
Although it was my birthday, I was grateful and happy to be alone with Daniel. He had promised me that this party was the last of all of his many commitments before the summer months started, and after it was all over, he had said that we would go away somewhere, for a week, where we could have a chance to be alone – together.
The party had been an unbelievable parade of a vast selection of the biggest names in music coming together, some mixing business with pleasure, one of what seemed to be the music industry’s biggest unspoken rules, whilst others, like Daniel were only about business, and to his credit, he spent most of his time telling people adoringly what an amazing dancer and choreographer I was, of which everybody he spoke to was only too happy to hear everything and anything about me as the night carried on.
Daniel had literally spoken to every other person at the party, so from the moment we had arrived up until about ten minutes ago, we hadn’t actually turned to each other in order to have a conversation before the next person was introduced or came up excitedly to tap Daniel on the arm, or even just to stare adoringly in our direction until somebody else managed to usher them away quickly with embarrassing and apologetic smiles.
I continued to look out at the starry sky and then at the view of the city from where I stood, happy to have Daniel’s arms wrapped protectively around me as his fingers glided over my skin, as he placed a gentle kiss on my cheek.
The background music from inside the house that spread outside was soft, warm, and romantic, and for the first time I felt happy – euphoric even, that all of this had happened without a single thing going wrong.
Daniel turned my body back towards him now, and started to twirl me around slowly, his hands softly interlinking with my own, as he twirled me around again so that I stood opposite him once again.
I looked at him and raised my eyebrow playfully. He looked back at me and laughed.
“Let’s dance.”
“Everybody’s waiting for you…. “
“Well, I’m sure they won’t mind waiting…. You know, I could always make you dance....”
“I’m not threatened... In fact, I know I’m pretty good without your help… the last thing I need is you making me trip and fall down.”
“You underestimate me...”
“And you overestimate yourself. I don’t get distracted, easily, especially when it comes to dancing.”
“Oh, really…well, in case you haven’t noticed, I think you’ll agree that I’m your exception to this rule.”
“Prove it.” I said, raising an eyebrow, as I started to move my leg slowly.
Daniel looked at me and smiled, and stepped forward slowly, still talking, his eyes locked on mine as he moved closer and closer towards me, his face millimetres away from mine. His hands wrapped around my waist as he pulled my body towards his, my body falling into his hands as my hands came up and caressed his face. His fingers ran down my body as he caressed my arms, pulling his fingers through my own as his lips were inches away from my own now, his movements matching my own. I stroked his face as his mouth pressed down on the top of my lips, and then his fingers ran over my lips again as he smiled, my hands still stroking his face as I bent my head towards his, his eyes closed, before I felt my legs buckle beneath me. He pulled me towards him, and laughed, whispering gently in my ear. “See?” He said, before he took a step back from me, a smug smile appearing over his face as he watched me look away from him.

I looked down and smiled, as I looked up to see him gazing at me.
“You look beautiful in that dress.”
“Yeah, not bad, and you brought it all by yourself, too.”
“Ha ha. Very funny!”
Looking down at my dress, I had to agree that it was an incredibly beautiful dress. It was black satin with a high collar, and at the back it was slashed all the way to my lower back. Daniel had given it to me this afternoon, just before I was about to start getting ready.
I had spent the morning with Daniel, doing nothing but just enjoying each other’s company, as we always had, as we always did, as I felt as though we always would continue to do so. It had been 4 months since we had spent our first night together, and in the morning, waking up to next each other, we hadn’t wanted any of it to end. For the very first time since my relationship with Michael, I had let all my guards down, and had let another person into my life without holding back, allowing them to see every side of me. We had spent all of this time together learning about each other, making each other laugh, making each other smile.

Dress rehearsals with the cast for pre-production had started last week before actual production started in a month, but coincidently, Daniel had been away on business for a couple of days last week, so had escaped the prospect of having to deal with any possible questions about our relationship. I hadn’t mentioned Daniel at all during our rehearsals, remaining professional at all times, and the cast had proved an unbelievable group of talented dancers to work with, so rehearsals had actually been a lot of fun, and a way for me to get back to my dancing – which had always been so incredibly important to me. Spending time with Daniel had also become equally important – as soon as we saw each other it felt as if we had been away from each other for longer than we actually had been, and although we loved spending time together, I still didn’t know everything about Daniel, but I had never really given it a second thought to ask him. When we were together, it was as if everything melted away, and I barely gave a second thought to anything.
A couple of days before the party, I had been at his house, where I had spent the night, and we were wrapped in each other’s arms, drinking hot chocolate and watching the rain fall down heavily outside the window. I stood out the window, looking up at the grey sky full of thunderclouds and heavily overcast, while I cradled my mug of hot chocolate before I turned around, and looked over and smiled at Daniel, who was looking at me whilst sitting down on the sofa. He held his arm out towards me, and gestured for me to come closer, until I stood in front of him, and he pulled me down, as I giggled, onto the sofa beside him. I wrapped myself back around the blanket once again as he pulled me into his arms, my head resting gently on the top of his shoulder as he kissed the top of my forehead lightly, and I sat back, listening to the sound of his breathing, whilst his fingers played with the loose curls in my hair.
He breathed in and sighed deeply, and got up slightly from the sofa, as he sat up straight, and looked at me, lying back peacefully on the sofa next to him as I looked at him and smiled.
“Stace… you know I have so much to do next week…. I don’t know that we could see each other.”
I smiled, taking his hand in mine, playing with his fingers, my fingers tracing lightly over the lines on the palms of his hands.
“Is that a reason or an excuse?”
“I don’t know… I’m just telling you the truth…. “
“I know. We both have busy lives, our careers pulling us in different directions. It’s been 4 months of me being with you. You being with me, and we’ve always found a way to be together. What’s going to be so different about next week?”
“Nothing…. I just thought I should tell you. Right now, I always have small events, big events that I need to pay attention to.”
I nodded, and sat up, my blanket falling off my shoulders and onto the floor as I did so. I looked at him, before I shifted my body closer to his and cradled his face in my own, stroking his cheek, where a short amount of stubble had started to grow. His eyebrows furrowed as he looked down, his facial expression brooding.
“I’m a big event.” I said, raising my eyebrows and laughing as I looked at him, before he looked at me and smiled.
“Always…” He said, kissing me slowly on the mouth, closing his eyes as he did so.
“I just want you to know….” He said, looking into my eyes before he continued, losing my focus as I stared back into his eyes as he started to speak again.
“I don’t feel alone anymore… I used to, with all of this pressure, with all of this expectation on my shoulders… but it doesn’t matter, not anymore, not as long as I’m with you.” He said, before I looked at him.
“How can you feel alone, when you have everyone around you willing to do whatever you want them to do?”
“That’s exactly what I mean, though. Being in this spotlight, it’s incredibly isolating. You lose the true people around you – suddenly they disappear from your life in an instant – only to be replaced with these seemingly perfect replicas – all willing, wanting, and waiting to do anything for you, until you fall, and then once you fall, you become a nobody, easily replaced, easily forgotten, and in their world, nobody wants to be around a nobody.”
I looked at him, and smiled, still holding his face. “You’re never alone.” I said, looking at him and kissed him on the mouth.
“So, there’s this party… on Friday that I want you to go to with me.”
“Yeah, sure. But, I mean shouldn’t someone else go, especially if it’s a work thing. Why don’t you ask Sonja? I’m sure she’d love an invite.” I said, playfully giving him a smile.
“She is going, but that’s not the point….” He said, grabbing my hand and holding it up to his while he looked at me.
“The point is, I want you there. I need you with me.”
“Well, it’s my birthday.” I said, looking at him.
“I know, and I already have something else planned for that. This is just something I have to do, and I was hoping you’d come. You are my girlfriend, after all…the only woman for me….” He said, whispering softly in my ear as he kissed my ear lobe, before he whispered in my ear; “And I love you.”
“I love you.” He said, sitting back on his knees on the sofa, looking at me as I tried my best to process what he had just said.
“I can’t believe it… “I said, looking at him, both of my hands wrapped around his face as he looked at me, waiting for my reply, waiting for me to say something, to say anything. And I wanted to, I wanted to tell him those three little words he wanted to hear, but somehow, just as I started to open my mouth to speak, something stopped me, and each time, I pulled myself back at the last minute.
I didn’t know how I felt. I did – I felt happy, euphoric when I was with Daniel – I loved everything about him, I loved spending time with him, I loved him, but I didn’t know if I was in love with him. I didn’t know if I could be – after everything I had been through with Michael, all the waiting, all the wondering, the many nights I sat up alone night after night, thinking whether he loved me or not, whether he would say the words to me, and a couple of months after he had, we had loved each other, and the relationship had ended.
“I don’t know what to say….I love you too, but being in love… I don’t know if I’m there yet…” I said, still holding his face in my own.
“Don’t worry about it… its fine.” He said, kissing me gently on the lips quickly, tracing his fingers across my lips gently before he got up off the sofa and stood up. As he started to walk away, I grabbed his hand, turning his body back towards me.
“Are you sure you’re Ok about this?” I said, looking up into his face as he stared right back at me.
“Yeah, in fact I want you to wear something – it’s a dress – for the party.”
“Sure.” I said, as I got up, following him around the sofa and out into the hallway, before he held my hand and pulled me into the bedroom. He walked towards the built in wardrobe standing to the right of the vast room, next to the four poster bed, and took out a dress, and placed it in my hands, as my hands ran over the material, made of the softest satin, and ebony black in colour.
I walked into the en suite bathroom to try the dress on, feeling like a goddess even as I tried the dress on, the material running over my skin as it glided on, fitting me like a glove – my perfect size. I looked into the mirror, and ran a hand over the dress, and even I had to admit that it looked amazing. The high collar looked elegant, demure, and glamorous, while the slash at the lower back brought a more dramatic feel to the look of the dress.
I came out of the bathroom, walking gently forward as I twirled around as Daniel’s eyes skimmed over the dress, my body, my face, every part of me, his eyes betraying his look of gentle adoration.
“It’s perfect.” He said as he looked at me. “You look perfect in it.” He said, and smiled.


Saturday, 27 June 2009

3. [the one]

Stacie Anderson, [Mercer Dance Studio, Soho, New York City, NY]

They say a look is worth 1,000 words. I believe this to be true. I didn't know what to expect, or how to feel as I prepared myself for my professional life without Ben – the one person who had guided me from the very beginning of the production – through various steps, endless rehearsals, different sequences and rhythms, pushing me a little bit more each and every more.
First impressions lasted a lifetime particularly within the dance industry, and although every bone in my body was trying to force some excitable urge out of me from this, I found myself walking slowly towards the studio doors as I arrived, walking incredibly slow and looking around for any new faces that I didn't recognise. The large mahogany door was slightly ajar as I walked into the dance studio, quietly but confident with a warm smile on my face, eager to learn what my new dance choreographer would be made of. I had heard nothing but good things from absolutely everyone I had talked to, and even Ben couldn't officially fault him which annoyed me, as I now had no fall back plan. It wasn't that I wanted to dislike this new replacement, it was the fact that I had worked so incredibly hard, with everything just within my reach, and I had no idea if by working alongside this person, my dreams would be exactly that and would fail to turn into the reality that I had wanted them to be for so long.
I dropped my bag over in the corner as it landed with a light thud on the polished floor, the large mirror now looming over me. I walked further into the room and looked around at the empty, vacant room, waiting for somebody to appear so we could get through the necessary introductions. I coughed lightly and cleared my throat, and pushed my hair back in frustration, my hands smoothing over my curls as they continued to tumble, doing a messy and inappropriate job of framing my face.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see somebody moving closer towards me and I turned around quickly to introduce myself properly.
I looked around and turned to face him properly. He was tall, at least a head taller than me, and he had short, black hair and a strong jawline. His eyes were golden brown, swirling whirlpools of caramel tinged with the colour of burnt amber. His skin was light brown, the colour of milk chocolate. He was lean, his body muscular , but he still managed to effervesce a boyish look about him. His features were perfect – straight, angular and symmetrical.
His dark eyes flickered towards mine for a fraction of a second as I looked at him, uncomfortably now, unsure what was going to happen next. He looked away quickly, returning his attention towards the young woman standing next to him as they both talked amongst themselves. The woman standing next to him was petite, her long blonde hair was straight and short, running to her shoulders, with a long sweeping fringe across her face. She had dark blue eyes, and her figure was curvier, slightly curvier than the average, but it was plain to see that she used this to her advantage, as she wore a black dress with a large white belt that was cinched tightly around her waist, accentuating her assets.
She looked up at me quickly and gave me a stiff smile as the man beside her was still engrossed in his mobile phone ,looking over the large file of paperwork she had in her hand before I cleared my throat, and walked towards them slowly.
The man finally looked up at me, and smiled, and from that point on didn't glance at his assistant again until she turned on her heel and walked out of the room, closing the studio door behind her, a stiff expression on her face.
He walked towards me, his face was friendly, open, and welcoming, a large smile on his lips as his eyes swept over my face, still careful and wary as to who I actually was.
“Sorry about that. You must be Stacie Anderson, right?.” He said, his voice deep and resonating.
“Yes.” I said, returning his smile quickly as I raised my hand and tucked a loose tendril of hair behind my ear.
“My name is Daniel Thomas. Its nice to meet you – finally. I've heard a lot about you from Ben.”
“Right. Ben never really said much about you.” I continued, looking at him, an awkward look on his face as he laughed, shaking his head slowly, before looking up and smiling at me again, catching me off guard.
“Well, that would make sense, I guess he wanted you to get to know me on your own terms.”
“I think I can handle that.” I continued, looking at him.
'So, tell me why you started dancing in the first place.”
“I don't know, really. I always loved ballet, and it just continued from there.”
“And now?”
“My love for dancing has never really gone away... but over the past couple of months, things have been complicated.”
“I think I can keep up.” He said, looking at me interestedly, before he smiled again as he looked down.
I don't know why I decided to tell Daniel everything that had happened to me. Everybody had waited for me to talk, on my own terms, instead of actually asking me what had happened and pressing me for details. We sat down on the raised platform behind us and I talked, while he listened. Seconds, minutes, maybe even hours passed us by as I started to describe everything that had happened to me, how my dancing had transformed from a passion into a way of catharsis, into therapy. I paused for long moments as he looked at me, before being distracted by his gaze and answering without thinking, letting all my barriers fall, and becoming completely vulnerable.
He never stopped looking at me, maintaining direct eye contact, smiling at the right moment, his eyes being sympathetic and consoling at the right time. I couldn't fathom or make sense of his interest in my entire life, but my puzzling expressions never did anything to dent his constant interest in me, and who I was.
“I recently found out that my dad has a drug problem, and its been hard and confusing for all of us. At the time, I couldn't make sense of any of it, and instead of talking about it and trying to work things out, I threw myself into my dancing. Everytime there's been a crisis – a breakup, a breakdown, I've always shut myself off to everything around me, concentrating solely on my dancing, convinced that if I was able to succeed, to really make a career out of it, then everything else would work themselves out.”
“And now?”
“Now, I've had to learn that life's not always like that. Life throws you curveballs, and sooner or later you have to deal with them, because otherwise you just become...”
“Stuck, while life moves on without you?” Daniel interjected, looking at me and smiling.
“Yeah, something like that.” I finished, looking up at him, trying to read his expression on his face as I looked into his eyes.
“Wow – I don't think I've ever sat down and talked about all of this before. Not as candidly as this – not even with my best friend.” I confessed, looking up at him and smiling.
“Well, they always say its easier to talk to strangers about your life – sometimes it becomes incredibly hard to talk honestly to the people we love.”
Daniel sighed and looked at me, his face caught in the beams of sunlight that shone through the window. “So, how long have you been doing your showcase?”
“Long enough.”
“We shall see.” Daniel said, winking at me quickly. “Ready?” He said, getting up from the platform and walking towards the mirror.
I stood up and walked confidently towards the large mirror in front of me, relieved that I would finally be able to dance instead of talk. I still couldn't believe that I had sat down for minutes on end and explained my current life story to this attractive man who I had no idea what he thought of me. My thoughts were unimaginable as I tried to concentrate and focus on my dancing. I managed to complete the sequence perfectly, as usual, and Daniel appeared to be engrossed in my every step and movement.
After an hour of constant dancing, Daniel finally lifted his arm, remote in hand and pointed towards the stereo, stopping the music.
I could feel small droplets of sweat run down my back as I stood panting in the room, my heart beat fast, my hands on my waist as I tried to regain my composure. He looked over at me and smiled, getting up and grabbing his jacket as he walked slowly towards me. He shrugged on his leather brown tan jacket and smiled, mobile phone in hand glancing at it distractedly before looking at me again, before his phone started to ring incessantly. “I'm sorry.... I have to take this, its my assistant.”
I nodded, somewhat disbelievingly. “Now?”
“Yes... its important.... but you were good. Impressive. I'll see you next week.” He said, and walked past me and out of the studio door. I stared after him as he walked out of the room, leaving me speechless.
I sighed, and turned back towards the mirror, deciding to run through my routine one more time, wanting to see if anything would be different now that Daniel was no longer in the room. I ran through the steps, and after I had finished, I sat on the chair, resting my head back against the chairback, my hair and vest top slightly damp from my sweat, as I breathed and panted, the only sound in the room was my ragged heartbeat that was now pumping loudly.
I got up and walked slowly across the room, grabbing my own jacket and bag from the raised platform and walking towards the door. As I got outside, I looked up to see that the sky was clear with not a cloud in the sky, and was eager to get to my car and drive home. I turned the radio on to hear the sounds of incessant chatter, and started the engine. I unzipped my jacket slowly and pulled out my hairband so my hair could finally have a chance to de-frizz on the way home.
I looked around at the rest of the parking lot, and saw that I was one of the last cars to leave. As I drove away from the dance studio and back towards home, I couldn't help but think about that afternoon and the first impressions we had now made upon each other. I started to wonder what would happen the next time I saw him again. I stomped on the brake just in time to stop for a red light as I pulled into the driveway of the apartment complex. I took a deep breath and sighed deeply, thinking about how no matter what happens, certain people just find a way to get under your skin and stay there, no matter what.
Stacie Anderson, [Mercer Dance Studio, Soho, New York City, NY]
“Dance as though no one is watching you.” Daniel said, turning and looking at me.
“Are you saying I'm nervous?” I asked, incredulous. I was pretty sure he couldn't be more wrong, or maybe he was having more of an effect on me than I was admitting to myself.
He smiled as he looked up at me again. “No – not at all. That's not what I'm saying.” He said, walking towards me, his arm on my shoulder.
“Well? What then?” I said, trying not to get more and more irritated by his smugness, safe in the assurance that he knew what he was doing, and the fact that we both knew I had no choice but to listen to him, no matter how ludicrous his claims were. I had never been nervous when it came to dancing. It was the one place where I had been able to be completely free.
'Maybe you should try something different? Your dancing – the whole thing is impressive – excellent. But it needs one more little thing – something different, something to give it a bit of an edge.”
“Well, to be honest, I thought that's what I've been trying to do all this time – giving all of this a bit more of an edge by combining two different genres at opposite ends of the spectrum – classic and contemporary.”
“Yes... that's apparent. What I'm saying is it still feels a little bit too structured in certain places... maybe you need to loosen it all up a bit... try changing levels a little bit... start at the bottom and then work your way up so you're never in one stance for too long.”
“Point taken.” I said, nodding my head quickly before looking away distractedly.
“Run through it again.” He said, looking at me, his back against the wall and looking at me as the music track started up again. I took a deep breath and steadied myself in front of the long, looming mirror.
As I ran through each step, Daniel stopped me after every single one, telling me what to do next. He wanted me to slow everything right down so we could try and focus on changing the dynamic of the performance. He came down to the floor, his hands suddenly resting gently on my ankles as he brought one foot forward as he spoke; “Now see what happens when you step here.... “ he said, before moving my right foot beside me “So, instead of stepping to the right.... maybe it would be better if you paused, did a double helix and then followed your body right down again, so that way your levels would change.... what do you think?” He said, glancing up from his position on the floor to look at me tentatively, searching my eyes for an answer.
“That sounds good.. I'll try and work on it.”
“Great, that's fantastic. Apart from that though, well... you're everything Ben said you would be... and more. I'm glad we're getting the chance to work together like this.” He said, as he looked at me and gave me one of his crooked smiles, flashing his teeth. I nodded and smiled back at him, laughing on the inside. I paused for a second and started to realize with sheer amazement, that this was the first time in a long time that I was happy.
“I wanted to ask you something....” He said, as I turned away from him to grab my bottle of water, still breathing heavily from all the dancing I had done, my first break in three hours.
“Yeah sure, go ahead....” I said, concentrating on finding the bottle of water rooted deep inside my bag and struggling to come out. I turned around to look at him, one hand placed firmly around my water cap and the other one instinctively reaching up to brush away the wild tendrils of curls that were surely springing around my face, before my hand stopped, halfway up to my head and frozen in mid-air as I realized another hand had beaten me to it – Daniel's.
Daniel smiled and looked at me as he carefully brushed a loose curl out of my face, and I smiled, awkwardly and grateful at the same time as I didn't know what he was about to say next.
“Its getting late... have you eaten anything today? I should make sure you get something to eat at least, after working you so hard – if you want, of course.” Daniel said looking at me slowly and smiling.
“um... thanks. I hadn't even thought about it... but I should eat something.” I confessed, looking up at him and giving him a short smile.
“Great. I'll drive you home myself, I promise.” He said, looking at me intently.
“Well, you drive a hard bargain, but... OK.” I said, agreeing to dinner with Daniel. He looked at me and smiled, shrugging on his familiar tanned leather jacket as we both walked out of the studio together. I really had no expectations from any of this. I had had a hard day, I was exhausted, so I was ready and willing to sit down, eat something, and relax. Dinner with Daniel was just a bonus, although I was hardly dressed the right way – I had sweatpants and a tank top on, along with a jumper that I had thrown on at the last minute. I didn't even want to imagine what my reflection looked like in the mirror. But once again, my words had run away with me, and not for the last time, I had spoken too quickly and without thinking. I was silent as we walked out of the studio and into the cool evening air, mulling over what people would assume about my appearance – I was all over the place, and looked like I had been styled from someone out of the Rocky Horror Show, whereas Daniel remained casual and sophisticated as usual, oblivious to my own dressed down image.
“Where exactly are we going?” I asked, casually, wondering if my subtle approach would give me some much needed quick answers to the temprament of the restaurant Daniel was taking me too so I could try and prepare myself as much as possible on such short notice.
“Oh, its not far from here, and don't worry, its casual. I do know you've just spent three hours in the studio, so I was hardly going to take you somewhere that was black-tie – give me some credit!” He said, looking at me, then raising his eyebrows and laughing.
“I'm glad you came though.” He said again before I could have a chance to respond.
We walked for a further 10 minutes before we walked up to the door of the restaurant, called Cafe Bella. Daniel walked in front of me and held the door open with an inviting expression on his face, a smug smile which told me that he knew that I wouldn't be able to back out now that we had arrived. I awarded his smug reaction with an obstinate glare as I walked in, sighing resignedly as we walked towards the hostess slowly. The restaurant wasn't crowded at all, in fact it was mostly empty apart from one or two couples and a group of friends all chatting animatedly in their respective booths. The lighting was neutral, creating a casual, open, yet intimate ambience with a light and reflective glow that focused upon the laid back approach of the restaurant, and I noticed that during peak times of the year, I could imagine the restaurant being one of the more popular spots to go to in the city.
The hostess had on a tank top and jeans, had unnaturally dark corkscrew curls, was of a petite build and was several inches shorter than my five foot eleven height. In flats, Daniel was still a head taller than me, and in heels, his head would still reach over mine, but nevertheless, Daniel's height didn't seem to bother the petite hostess at all as she looked up to him and smiled warmly, her eyes full of anticipation and excitement.
“Hi. Can we have a table for two please?” He said, looking at her and smiling.
“Yes, of course you can. If you'd like to follow me, then.” She said, her eyes wondering over my face for the first time as she finally acknowledged me standing next to Daniel. She gave me a short smile and then moved in front of us as she walked us to a booth.
She led us to one of the two most central booths in the restaurant and was about to seat us at the largest of the two, surrounded by the smaller booths with the rest of the paying customers. I pulled a chair out at the opposite end of the table, about to sit down, but Daniel still stood in front of the hostess, remaining perfectly stationary, and still.
“I'm really sorry to be difficult, but is there any chance we could sit somewhere less open?” He insisted, smiling at the hostess and flashing his teeth as he did so. The hostess regained her composure quickly and waved her hand to the right of us.
I looked up at him quickly, shaking my head. “This is fine, really, don't worry about....”
Daniel looked up at me and shook his head slowly, and then turned to walk behind the hostess as she directed us to our new table. I stood still at the table, confused, until Daniel grabbed my hand at the last minute and pulled me along with him.
“Is this one any better?” The hostess said, before turning squarely on her heel as she looked at us both directly in the face.
“This one's perfect. Thank you.”
“No problem at all- I'll be right back with a menu and your drink requirements.”
“Great.” Daniel said as she walked back towards the main area, her stiletto pumps echoing loudly on the floor.
“Why did you do that just now? We really didn't need to be all the way back here.” I said, looking around uncomfortably.
“I just didn't need every single eye on me... although I quite liked having everybody in the room stare at me for having the most beautiful date – in trackpants.”
I laughed. “Thanks.”
“I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and said how lucky I am to be working with you. You have this power over everyone – I don't think I've met anyone yet who hasn't said you're amazing.”
“Its tough having to keep proving yourself and living up to this kind of hype and madness, every single day. I hate it.” Daniel admitted.
“You hide it very well, I'll give you that.” I said.
“Its all just a game. You have to know the rules and you have to know how to play – very well. One small mistake, once you fall, sometimes you don't know if you're going to make it back before someone takes your place.”
“So, humor me, who is the real person behind it all, who's the real Daniel Thomas?” I said, jokingly, smiling.
“Well, with certain people in my life, all the hype falls away – and I can just be myself – just be me and know that I'll be accepted, no matter what happens, even if I'm secretly the biggest loser ever!” He said, smiling.
“Well, you're different than I expected. I thought you'd have this huge ego and become completely unapproachable.”
The hostess came and went, taking our drinks and food orders, but her presence was fairly unnoticed by both of us, and the tension between us was becoming more and more significant as each minute passed. I began to mull over my thoughts, stopping and catching myself, wondering what was going to happen between us, and I had to stop myself from putting my mind into overdrive. Daniel was the first man since Michael that I had allowed myself to stop and think about, to process the little things and try and make sense of all my random thoughts.
I had been focused and completely dedicated to my dancing, my career path, for all of this time that I had simply forgotten about everything else. I had forgotten how to date, how to be a best friend, how to be a sister, how to be a loving and understanding daughter. When I thought about Daniel, these thoughts came to the surface and persuaded me to think about things that I shouldn't be, even persuade me to say things that I shouldn't say – did I really want to put everything on the line and in jeopardy for my presumed feelings about Daniel – this one man in my life who was catching me unawares each and every time by having such a profound effect on me – all my other possible options in as far as foundations for new relationships had gone unnoticed, unwanted, and completely underneath my radar. For the past year, I had been like a zombie, dedicated to my one goal, and everything else simply seemed to be one big blur. Even after all this time, I still struggled to figure out what I wanted out of my personal life, if I even had time for a personal life anymore – I couldn't figure out what I wanted.
As we continued to talk, I looked at Daniel and couldn't help but feel different about my feelings towards him. This was something new but I didn't know if this was a bad thing or a good thing. He had something over me – his hypnotic spell that he had managed to cast over his adoring peers and co-workers was now starting to work its magic on me, the symptoms becoming clearer and clearer to me now. Despite everything, I hated the way I was feeling – the way I was able to completely fall for him so suddenly like this was a first for me. To make things more complicated, Daniel wasn't just any guy – he was a producer in the music industry, with everybody at his feet, and despite everything, and his open honesty with me, Daniel wasn't the guy I wanted to let myself believe in.
Regardless of my innate voice of reason and rationalisation, the heart has its own logic, and throughout my first dinner date with Daniel, I could feel myself being pushed and pulled down to the what ifs and maybes of us together.
“Its tough sometimes... the more hype that surrounds you, the more you have to reassess the people around you, the friends you keep... everything. It can be a hard lesson to learn, and lately I feel like certain people have had more of an positive effect on me than others... which is always a good thing.” He said, looking up at me, raising his eyebrows at me and smiling.
I looked up at him while twirling a fork half filled with pasta. “And you immediately thought of me?” I said, trying to work out what he was saying.
“Yeah, I guess I did.” He said. “All our time together in the studio is starting to have an effect on me.You see me and treat me as a person – a real person... and I like the way I feel when I'm around you. I'm falling for you.” He said, looking at me intently.
I sat quietly, brooding over what Daniel had just carefully admitted to me. I was dazed, and not confused, but shocked that Daniel had actually startled me with his confession – and that he was reciprocating my own silent thoughts and feelings about him. I began to feel quite disorientated – I looked down towards my drink and realised that I had managed to order sparkling water instead of coke, the latter being without the sugar rush I needed. I rested against my seat, grateful of its hard back to prop me up so I didn't end up slouching everywhere, as I started to feel overcome with tiredness. His expression was unreadable, his movements still as a statue, and not moving at all. As more minutes passed between us, I began to get uneasy, and he looked up into my eyes, his seeking my own, his hazel eyes full of questions as a pained expression quickly washed over his face only to be quickly replaced with a careful, cautious one instead as he looked at me,a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
“Do you want to get out of here?” He asked, looking at me suddenly. I nodded slowly as he waved the hostess over to pay the bill. As much as I wanted to get out of the restaurant and on my own to figure things out and to possibly get some much needed sleep, I was still grateful for the short walk back to the studio and then the ride home back to my flat, as I wasn't able or ready to allow myself to say goodbye to him on such awkward ground.
Once we had paid and left the restaurant, we went back outside into the cool evening air, and reality started to hit me all over again, leading me to believe that I had just stepped out of some kind of dream. But as I looked quickly at Daniel, I realised that dinner had actually happened. I wasn't shocked or surprised about having dinner, or about the fact that it was dinner with Daniel, or that I could be with Daniel – it was the fact that both of us had managed to fall for each other so quickly in such a short space of time – and that brought its own set of questions I just wasn't ready to face yet.
We walked back to the parking lot of the dance studio in absolute silence, mostly because I didn't know what to say – If Daniel confronted me about any of it, I wouldn't know what to say, or how to even begin to respond, or even begin to explain what I couldn't even make sense on my own.
As we got closer and closer towards my car, Daniel kept a careful distance between the both of us, and as we stopped against my car door, he pulled me towards him and held my hands in his. “Stacie...” He said, turning my body to face his as he continued; “Now would be the time to say something about all of this?”
I looked at him, meeting his eyes. “I can't... I can't... I can't put my dancing in jeopardy. This showcase is everything to me – without this, I don't go anywhere.”
“Is it really more important that you'd sacrifice.... this?” He asked, still holding my hands in his.
“This? What is this? What do we really mean to each other? I don't even think you can define what it is – what we actually have.”
“I know what I have when it comes to dancing... and I'm not going to gamble with it.” I continued.
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“You know what I mean. You have a thousand girls – women to choose from. Why me? I'm not going to be the latest squeeze of the month. If this goes wrong, you can bounce back from all of this. I can't.”
“Stacie, listen to me... you know its not like that.....”
“How should I know? If anybody found out what was happening, I could get pulled from the production. I've worked too hard for this to pass all of it up so easily and on such a whim.”
His hands dropped away from mine, and he slightly pulled away from me. I raised an arm, placing it gently on his shoulder as I tried to make him understand where I was coming from.
“I know you're afraid to take a chance on this... to take a chance on me... but please think about this. We won't have to defend our relationship to anyone. Look, you can't help who you fall for, and I wish, in this situation I could, for you, but I can't, I just can't.” He said. I looked at him and started to shake my head slowly as his hand came up to cradle my face.
I was still so confused about everything. I didn't want to damage my professional relationship in the midst of a personal one, I needed this production showcase so much. Another part of me was saying that I needed Daniel in my life,that life was too short for regrets and pulling back from the thing you want the most when its right in front of you and there for the taking. After my relationship with Michael had ended, this was the first time that my heart decided to embrace and entertain the prospect of falling in love again. But I ddin't know what was the right step for me, but I had to make a decision one way or the other, and decide before something else happened, and before it was too late.
Darren Anderson, [Waverly Avenue, West Brooklyn, New York City, NY]
'The love that makes the sun and other stars' – This was how Tasha had described the way we loved each other. From the very first moment I saw her, I always knew there was something special and alluring about her, something much more than the attractive, popular half Italian woman who was cute, likeable and funny, and I knew that she was the one.
But now, in this moment, I could hardly bear to look at her, this beautiful woman and the mother of my child – a part of both of us that grows inside of her.
I was angry and frustrated as I stood outside our bedroom door, a million thoughts running through my head as I tried to think where I had gone wrong. I shook my head and walked out onto the porch, where I sat down on the overhead bench, white and wooden, that hung from the low patio roof above the back door. I rummaged through my pockets for the packet of hidden cigarettes I kept in my jacket. As I lit up quickly, inhaled slowly and breathed out a cloud of smoke, I sat back on the bench and stared above at the starry sky. I always felt like I was trying to do the right thing, but always being compromised by my own judgement at the last minute.
Inside, I could hear Tasha moving about inside the kitchen noisily, no longer caring how much noise she ended up making. Now more than ever, I realised that she needed me to listen to her, whether she was right or wrong. She was in the middle of doing this amazing thing – and I realised that I couldn't afford to let her down – I didn't want to.
The walk I had taken to get here – to get to where I was today, had been a long, hard journey, and I didn't want to lose or waste any more time with focusing on the insignificant things. Tasha meant everything to me, now more than ever, and anything else that would stand in the way of loving her or causing her to be upset would just have to wait. Our relationship had been far from perfect, with ups and downs just like any normal couple, but maybe more than most.
We had always agreed that we drove each other crazy, to the point where we would have screaming matches and fights with each other until the other person gave in, both of us equally stubborn and insistent on not being the first one to cave in and show a white flag of surrender. However, for all our arguments, and volatile and erratic behaviour, one fact surpassed all of this, being clear to anybody who looked at us that we were madly in love and crazy about each other.
Now I don't even know how we had ended up here – I would do anything for Tash – anything to make her happy, and now it seemed like my every move did the exact opposite. I walked slowly back into the kitchen, and watched her as she made macaroni and cheese, her favourite dish since she found out she was pregnant. I rested my hands on the tabletop behind me and watched her, before she turned around to face me and we both stared at each other. We both knew that there was nothing left to say about the situation with my father, with my broken family, but despite everything, I knew I had to change and listen to her, wanting me to be everything that she expected I should be, and more.
She shook her head resignedly as she looked around the kitchen distractedly, before allowing her eyes to linger on my face again, looking intently into my eyes before she spoke.
“Darren – I really don't feel like talking right now.”
“We're a good match then. It means you can listen.” I said, moving in front of her face.
“Can we not do this now? I'm tired – I need to lie down.” She said, pushing her head away to the side, and grabbing my shoulder, trying to push my body out of the way so she could get past.
“I'm not going anywhere.”
“Great – you can stay here as long as you like, but I'm leaving.” She said, resolutely, her stubborn look flashing across her face.
I grabbed her arm as she turned her body away from me. “Stay with me – don't you think we need to talk about all of this?”
“There's nothing left to say.” She said, turning her head slightly and looking up at me, her face cold and distant, giving me a stony glare.
“Look, I know I've made every wrong decision about everything, it seems, but I really think....”
“You really think what? What are you so sure about this time? That you're going to stop being immature? That you're going to grow up and take responsibility for your actions? I already have one baby to take care of, and I don't need another one.” She said, looking at me and shrugging her shoulders.
“I know, I know....” I said, grabbing her face and covering it with kisses, finally kissing the top of her forehead, and pressing her stomach carefully.
“I'm sorry.... I love you so much, and I'm sorry for the way I've been handling everything, I just feel very protective over you sometimes.” I said, holding her face in my own hands.
She smiled as she looked at me. “I'm not fragile – I'm not going to break anytime soon. You don't have to protect me.”
I looked at her and smiled. “I know. I guess my family has been so messed up these past couple of months, and in my own weird way I just didn't want you to have to be a part of it.” I said.
She looked at me and held my face in her hands. “Baby, I am a part of your family – I'm your family too.”
“And you're right you know... about everything... whoever this is...” I said, patting her stomach gently; “they're going to want to have all of their family in their lives, and they should, no matter what.” I said, as I smiled and kissed her on the top of her forehead.
She turned back towards the granite worktop, as she started to spoon macaroni and cheese out of a frying pan and onto the plate before taking it along to the table as I turned and grabbed my keys off the worksurface before looking at her and raising my eyebrows in surprise.
“Mac and Cheese? I thought you weren't a fan?” I said, laughing as she played with a forkful of it as she raised her head and looked at me.
“I know. What can I say? Cravings – I'm up and down like a rollercoaster. Last week it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the week before it was bananas and anchovies, and now its mac and cheese.” Tasha said, looking at me and smiling.
“I'm going to go and stop off at my parents' – I think they want me to be there – and I haven't talked to my dad since seeing him briefly at the restaurant.” I said, looking at Tasha.
“Well, I hope it all goes well....give me a call later, OK? If you're stopping by the Deli, could you pick me up a...”
“Chicken salad with no pickles or onions?” I said, looking at her and smiling.
“Wow – I'm impressed!”
“Well, what can I say? Being around you and your cravings all the time has rubbed off.” I said, as I blew her a kiss and went out the front door.
The fresh air outside was a welcome relief as it helped to clear my head. I still had no idea what I would say to my father as I hadn't seen him since my angry exit back at the restaurant, which had been over two weeks ago.
I had been feeling pre-occupied and distant because of my strained relationship with my father, but I was determined to fix it and to try and correct it, and I would support him if I needed to. I had missed the relationship that we used to have – the fact that I could go and talk to him about anything had been a big part of my life so far, and during the first few weeks of learning that Tasha was pregnant, I had been able to talk to my dad, able to put my cards on the table in frank and honest candour.
I got into the car and drove up to the freeway, and once on the road, I went faster, keeping my speed just below the limit, and casually checking for the right exit, not that I needed to since I knew the route to my parents house backwards, but I figured I might as well take the extra steps to be more careful – I had begun to guess that the prospect of fatherhood was starting to affect me more than I realised.
As I turned off the speedway, and out into the streets of the upper east side, it took me all of ten minutes to get through the building driveway and into the large drive that circled the entirerity of my parent's house, as i noticed Stacie's car in the driveway along with the usual two cars of my parents, neatly parked side by side.
I walked up to the door, and knocked to see Stacie open the door, pushing her hair back from her face as she looked to see who it was. She smiled slightly when she saw it was me, and gave me a brief hug before turning on her shoe and walking inside and down the corridor towards the lesser, and the more informal of the living rooms, which was open plan and backed onto the breakfast bar, a slight version of the larger kitchen on the other side.
Her usual sleek dark brown curls were now slouched in a low, messy ponytail and her eyes had a pre-occupied yet vacant look, as if she was trying to figure something out that she couldn't find the answers to. I assumed she had been down to the studio today as she was wearing a baggy tracksuit and a jumper, but flat shoes instead of trainers.
I walked into the living room and nodded over at my mother and father, who had also made their way into the living room and stood quietly chatting in quiet voices amongst themselves as Stacie now sat down, stationary and silent at the large burnt terracotta table in the middle of the room, the empty seats around her and the large vastness of the table only emphasized the fact that she either wanted to be alone, or that something was wrong, but she was having trouble with putting it all into words so people could have a chace of relating to or identifying with her on some small level, as clearly, or what seemed to be the case with our family, was that we were never really overloaded with friends , popular visits or even next door neighbours, as the friends that we had made often confided in us that the other people in the same neigbourhood became envious of our looks.
“Hey Stace, how's it going?” I said, looking at her.
“Yeah... fine.” She said, carrying a pile of papers in her hands, struggling to walk, before I grabbed the entire pile out of her hands and carried it easily across the room towards the table.
I nodded across the room towards my mother and father who now stood at the breakfast bar in the open plan living room, the lesser of the two living rooms, talking amongst themselves in quiet whispers. I sat down at the table and looked across at Stacie, trying to figure out what was wrong, what she was thinking, and whether or not she would let me in, and let me try to help.
“How's all the dancing going, then?” I said, trying to make another effort at having a successful conversation with my younger sister.
She looked up at me and then sighed, shaking her head quickly, looking down at her pile of papers again and writing furiously.
“What's all that?” I said, nodding towards the pile of papers, some on the table, whilst the bigger pile rested precariously on her lap.
“Did you forget I'm organising Tasha's surprise baby shower?” She said, looking up at me and giving me a short quick smile before returning her eyes towards the stack of papers.
“Right... Thanks for doing that by the way, Tasha really will appreciate it.” I said.
“I know.” Stacie said and looked at me, giving me a quick smile before pushing her loose curls back away from her face.
I reached out a hand and touched her shoulder lightly, and she flinched as she appeared jumpy. She looked back at my hand and gave me another smile. I got up from the table and walked towards the breakfast bar towards my mother and father. My mother enveloped me in a huge hug. I looked over towards my dad who gave me a large smile and held out his hand, which I shook immediately.
“So, how's everything going?” I asked, eager to know what was going to happen with my father.
“Good – For the last couple of weeks, and with your mother's help, I've been trying to figure out how I should start dealing with all of this – and making sure I do the right thing – and make the right decision. So I've come to the decision that the next step should be some kind of rehabilitation – I've made an appointment at Honor Oaks and they're going to call me in for an assessment next week – to see whether or not I'm eligible.”
“Listen to me, Darren. This has been a huge wake up call for me, more than I even imagined myself. If I want this family to survive and get through this and get back to the way things things used to be, then I need to do this – to get some professional help of some sort. I need to do this – and I'll keep getting help with this until I know I won't let you – any of you down ever again.”
“Right... well, I'm proud of you.” I said, as I gave my father a hug, the first time I had given him one in a long time.
“How are you doing – how's Tash, and the baby?” My mother asked, looking at me, a huge smile sweeping over her face, as it did everytime anybody brought up the subject of Tasha and the baby.
“She's fine – everything's great.” I said, smiling at both of my parents and laughing as I shook my head.
“More to the point though, does anybody know what's wrong with Stace?” I asked, looking at both of them. My parents both looked at me and shook their heads. My mum looked at me slowly before continuing. 'I'd say she's been a little stressed, I think maybe's she under a little bit of pressure, but that's nothing compared to the pressure she puts on herself. But its no higher than usual, I think.”
“She seems a bit distant, and aloof. Something's definetely wrong with her.” I said, looking at her, and trying to work out what was the matter with her. I grabbed a drink from the refridgerator and walked back towards the table, sitting down next to her.
“There are four other chairs around this table.” She said, not looking at me as she continued to write. A few minutes passed by as I still sat down in the same chair and finally, she put her pen down and raised her eyebrows, looking at me in confusion.
“What's going on with you, Stace?” I said.
“What's with all the 20 questions? You've never been one to keep on at me like this. Like I said, I'm fine.”
“Like I said, I'm not leaving until you tell me what's wrong? Is it something to do with dancing?”
She looked at me and sighed deeply.
“My Dancing is fine... its.... something else... its complicated.”
“What is it?”
“Its Daniel....”
“The guy that's replaced Ben? What's the problem?” I asked, my eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
“Well, now that I'm changing parts of the showcase, it means I'm spending all of my free time down at the studio, and as a result Daniel and me have had to spend a lot more time together... and its been a couple of months, and....” She stopped mid sentence and looked at me before she started to laugh. “I don't even know why I'm telling you all of this....but we've both admitted that we like each other.”
“And that's a bad thing?” I asked her.
“Yeah, it is! My dancing means everything to me, and if anything went wrong,. I'd never forgive myself for not trying hard enough.... and I'm not about to put it all in jeopardy over me feeling a certain way about some guy.”
“But is he really some guy? Is he really the same as every other guy out there?” I asked her.
“Yeah.... “ She trailed off.
“Are you sure?” I asked her, a smile pulling at the corners of my mouth.
“You think this is funny?”
“No... its just you always do this – you get in your own way all of the time when it comes to these types of things. I know dancing is important to you – and given your god given talent, you have to stop thinking about if it will happen, but when.”
“Its not that simple, Darren. I know it was like that for you and Tash, you two are made for each other, but this is different.”
“Is it? If this is the first guy in a long time that's made you feel something different, you can't give up on that. You can't give up and turn your back on love for the sake of dancing. Sometimes you need to take a step back, and find out what will make you really happy.”
“I know what will make me happy... my dancing, my showcase... I need this to happen.”
“Will it? What about in a couple of months time? How will you feel when you see Daniel everyday, keeping yourself away from him – how are you going to feel when he moves on?”
Stacie shook her head slowly and looked at me. “When did you get so smart?”
“What can I say, I have my moments.” I said, looking at her and giving her a big smile.
On my way home from my parents' house, I could only hope that our family was slowly getting back to how things used to be. For my mother, she had been no doubt pushed to the very edge of love and back in showing her solidarity towards my father, whilst I had been tested a number of times to see if I was really changing – if I was really taking on a different role altogether in embracing my soon to be fatherhood. Somehow I was eager to get back to the way things used to be, but I knew that despite everyone's best intentions, too much had changed for everything to go back, but I knew that all of us, together, and as individuals, were now strong enough to rescue and save each of us when we stumbled and fell, something that I hoped that I would be able to do with my own growing family.
Stacie Anderson, [Mercer Dance Studio, Soho, New York City, NY]

It's as if I've gone colourblind. Whenever I dance, everything's always in sharp, vivid technicolour – everything makes sense, my steps are perfect, my body syncs perfectly with every beat, every note, and harmonizes seamlessly with the music.
I'm standing in front of the mirror, out of breath, my hair damp and frizzy as sweat covers every part of my skin. I've spent three hours rehearsing the steps, but they're not making any sense to me. The steps are as usual, perfect, but something's missing and somehow, its just not coming together. I try and play with the choreography, but no matter what I do, however many turns I put in, or how many steps I take out or make more complicated or simpler, nothing seems to work.
I take a couple of steps back away from the mirror, and take a deep breath. I sit down on the chair, and put my head back, trying to get my breath back as I sit forward, my damp loose curls flying everywhere. I take a few ragged, short breaths and walk towards the door where my bag is laying on the floor, and rummage inside it for my phone and my bottle of water.
I make my way back towards the chair, before getting up and walking towards the mirror and start to cool down, stretching every part of my aching body, my muscles so sore that they feel like they are being torn instead of stretched. This manages to distract me from my own stressful restlessness for about half an hour before I walk back towards the chair. I take a large sip of water, grateful for the cool liquid hitting the back of my throat. I sighed deeply, looking down towards the floor, trying to distract myself from my own thoughts.
I think about what I want out of my life, what I want right at this very moment, but no matter what I do, one thought keeps coming back to me over and over again, and despite all my protests and silent proclamations, I can't ignore it anymore. I reach for another sip of water, then pull out my phone. I can't even believe I'm about to do this – but I have to at least give it a chance. With steady, but unsure hands I scroll through my phonebook to find the number I'm looking for – past Win's number, and even past Michael's new number, before I find the one I'm looking for and type a text.
“Can we meet?” S
I press the send button, and wait, putting my phone back into my bag and stand up in front of the mirror, trying to put my thoughts out my head. I walk towards the window, and stare outside for a little bit, until I walk slowly back towards the chair, my legs aching with every step. I take my phone out of my bag and look at the message on the screen waiting for me.
“Sure.” D
Stacie Anderson, [Toast, Soho, New York City, NY]
We agree to meet in a small place called Toast in Soho, around the corner from the dance studio and within walking distance for me, much to the upset of my legs. Its a comfortable, inconspicous place with modern decoration, and shelves full of cook books. I walk inside the door and look around patiently. The two main centrepieces are the kitchen, and the bar. The focus of the kitchen are the large stove, of which takes most of the room, which the rest of the kitchen is built around. The open plan layout of the kitchen is warm and welcoming, and the majority of the tables are placed carefully around it. On to the back of the kitchen is the bar, with huge granite surfaces surrounding the centrepiece of the bar. I walk towards the front, facing the kitchen, and look around quickly before my eyes sweep across Daniel, waiting for me at a small table situated a few feet away from a stainless steel worksurface with a huge matching coffee maker on it. I smile as he looks at me and waves me over to him.
I feel my guard rising up instinctively, and against all my better judgement, here I am, succumbing to my own stupid motions and following my heart instead of my own instincts.
“Hi. Thanks for meeting me.” I join him at the table, where he looks up at me and smiles, before taking a quick sip of a large ceramic mug of coffee on the table.
“That's OK. I was glad you suggested this – thanks for not holding my rudeness against me, about the whole holiday thing – I should have told you, and not left it to my assistant to tell you.”
“That's fine. I hope you had a good time.” I said, looking up at him.
He looked at me and shrugged. “It was all work, really. I couldn't wait to get back.” He said. as he looked at me, his eyes flashing.
No matter what I had willed myself to think in the last couple of weeks whilst I had been away from him, something always brought me back to thinking about him. No matter what I said or did, I couldn't get away from Daniel pervading my thoughts.
“Stace – what is all this about? Why did you want to meet me?” He asked. As if out of nowhere, a hostess came over to take my drinks order, allowing me more time to stall and think of a better reason than “I just wanted to.” I ordered a large cappucino, and the hostess looked at both of us and smiled, nodding before walking away again.
“I don't know... I just... I just needed to see you. I can't explain it.” I said reluctanctly, maintaning eye contact with him whilst waiting silently for a reaction.
“Why?” He said, looking up at me, his eyebrows furrowing, giving me a stony look.
“I felt something, and as much as I've been trying not to think about you, I can't help it.”
His expression relaxed as I sighed, and looked at him, as he looked down before he smiled at me, flashing his teeth. His smile was infectious, and I couldn't help but smile back.
“How can you act so insouciant about this, though? I mean, if anybody found out... I don't know what would happen, and I start rehearsals with the cast soon. The last thing I need is them thinking my favouritism is based on sexual favours If we have to start decieving people, we're going to have to weave one tangled web.”
He looked at me and laughed. “I don't know... I meant what I said, Stace. I've fallen for you. I haven't stopped thinking about you since that night, and I just want you to give this a chance.”
“I know, I know, me too. Its just I don't want to jeopardise what I've already worked so hard for. And as I said, you could have a thousand women if you wanted to.”
“I know all of this. I don't want anybody else. The only person I want is you. I don't want this to be a fling – I want the fairytale. Can you trust me with that?”
“Yeah.. I guess I can.” I said, looking at him and smiling.
“So, what happens now?” I said, looking at him and smiling, not knowing what to expect. But now that my cards were on the table, for the first time in a long time, I didn't care.
“Well... I've always wanted to try one thing....” He said, his eyes sweeping over every part of my face as he looked at me, a large smile appearing on his face.
“Don't move...” He said, his voice now a gentle whisper as his face got closer and closer towards mine, until our lips were just inches away from each other's, and before I knew what was happening, his lips were on mine, pressing gently against mine, before I took a deep breath and kissed him back, my lips gently brushing against his, before he kissed me back more passionately, and I could only respond with kissing him right back, my lips lingering for a few seconds as I drew my breath back, my fingers lightly tracing the outlines of his face as he waited patiently until my mouth found its way back to his.
Stacie Anderson, [Hillside Villas, Gramercy, New York City, NY}

“Stace, come on, you can't possibly deny it anymore... its been 2 months already!” Win looked at me and smiled, before she burst out laughing.
“Well, if you find it so funny, maybe its just a casual thing after all, and not even worthy of giving a name to any of it.” I said, raising my eyebrow and smiling.
“OK, I'm sorry. You're right. Why are you holding out on this, though? I bet he's already started doing it, only you haven't noticed.” Win said, looking at me and winking.
“Win – please, just stop! I think if he had, I would have noticed by now...” I said. Win gave me one of her special puppy dog, adorably cute looks which just proved impossible to say no to. She didn't do it a lot, but whenever she did, she claimed there was always an important reason, or agenda behind why she had done it.
“OK, OK, fine. You can call him my boyfriend, although I don't get why you can't just call him Daniel – just like everyone else.” I said.
“Stace, this is good. You're finally allowing yourself, well, me, to define what you really mean to each other. You two are sickeningly cute together anyway.”
“OK, I really have to go now.” I said, walking away from her, and grabbing a piece of toast on my way out, making sure I had my phone and car keys with me on my way out of the front door.
I shook my head, closing the door firmly behind me as I walked towards my car. A rising feeling of euphoria started to take over as I drove down to the studio, knowing that I would see the one person who could always make me unbelievably happy in just a few short minutes. It took a while for me to get used to feeling like this – as I hadn't experienced anything like this in such a long time. I would never forget my old relationship with Michael – it had been important for both of us – he was the first person I had allowed myself to completely fall in love with, and although it hadn't worked out between us, there had been times when we had both brought out the best in each other. After our split, I threw myself back into my dancing, cutting myself off to every kind of emotion, and shutting myself down completely, always having my guard up with every new opportunity when it came to relationships.
I walked in the studio to find Daniel on the phone, and focused on who he was talking to on the other end of the line. His eyebrows were furrowed together in concentration, and he had a tank top on and a jumper which accentuated his chest, and his muscles. I looked around the room, a few minutes passing by, before my eyes finally swept over Daniel's assistant, standing in the corner of the room, looking at me with a volatile glare. I smiled in her direction, and she started walking over to me, in careful steps, making a conscious effort to walk in a certain way that highlighted the way her body moved against her clothes. I looked down at my phone before casually glancing up to find that she was right in front of me, staring at me, and waiting patiently, as if she wanted me to speak.
“Hi. How are you?” I said, looking at her, flashing another short smile as her large eyes swept over me, her eyebrows raised, in what looked like mild disgust.
“Hi. What are you doing here?” She asked, sweetly, before giving me a short, condescending smile.
“What do you mean?” I asked, her, suddenly looking over her head towards Daniel. I wasn't exactly bothered by what she had said – I knew that I was supposed to be here – whether Daniel was here or not, seeing as I practically owned the studio, I was the only dancer in the entire building who got the most use out of any one studio.
“I'm supposed to be here.” I said, looking back at her, raising my eyebrows questioningly, challenging her own derogatory stares back at me.
“Right... its just I don't think Daniel was expecting you today... he has a lot to do... such a busy man.” She said, looking back over her shoulder and staring at him. Daniel looked at the both of us – these two women and smiled in our direction before slightly turning his body away from us and lowering his voice, talking into his phone.
“It really doesn't matter to me whether Daniel was expecting me or not... I don't need him to be here anymore than you don't want him to be here – with me.” I said, a look of defiance on my face, my words obviously striking a nerve with her, but she quicly recovered as she looked back at me.
“Just so you know, Daniel needs me in his life... I'm a big part of it... without me, nothing would ever get done.” She said, looking at me, a smug smile on her face.
“Right. Well, thanks for that. God help him if you ever were to disappear.”
“My point exactly. I love what I do – and I always make sure I put in 110% each - and every time.” She finished.
“Well, I can understand that perfectly – you have a job to do. Now if you'll excuse me, you're getting in the way of me doing my job.” I said, raising my hand and waving it in front of her, making sure she was out of the way. She skulked away to the door, and walked out, leaving the door wide open behind her.
A few more seconds passed, and I went over to the raised platform near the door where I dropped my bag, before I turned around and walked towards the middle of the room, standing in front of the mirror, preparing my body to run through my normal routine of stretching.
Daniel walked towards me, a huge smile on his face as he looked at me, and swept me up in his arms, wrapping his arms around me, as he turned my body towards his, and kissed me gently on the lips.
“Hey you.” He said, whispering in my ear now, as his nose started to nuzzle my ear.
“Hey.” I said, looking at him and smiling. I looked at him, before a wave of lust engulfed me, out of nowhere, and my hands found their way up to their face as I drew his face towards mine, and kissed him again – this time, harder, and passionately, my lips crushing down on his, as I closed my eyes and let myself get wrapped up in his body.
“I was just talking to your assistant, Sonja? She seems so nice.” I said, raising my eyebrows playfully at him whilst his fingers ran through my hair, before his arms wrapped around my waist protectively.
“Sorry if she's been giving you any trouble... its just her way... she can be a lot to take sometimes...but she's good at her job, I don't know what I would do without her.” Daniel said, looking at me.
“Its fine. Don't worry about it, I'm sure her animosity will blow over soon, right, its not like she holds some kind of personal vendetta against me... yet!” I said, looking at him, a smile pulling at the corners of my mouth.
“Well, I can see her point...” Daniel said, a frank expression on his face as he looked down before he looked me in the eye. “Its incredibly hard for her to get me to focus and concentrate on anything these days.. especially when you're in the room, and since I can't stop thinking about you, she's under immense pressure to get me to pay attention to the most tiniest of things, when my mind's all wrapped up around you... you're the one.” He said, breathing those final three words into my ear, as if it was a secret that was only meant for me to hear, and know the meaning behind it, and in that moment, I believed that he was telling me the truth.

2. [nothing everything]

II – nothing everything

Darren Anderson, [Phoenix Point & Waverly Avenue, West Brooklyn, New York City]

Drugs had never really been that much of a big deal for me. Everybody I knew, even my fiancee, had been through the temporary phase of smoking pot at high school and college parties, and although I had smoked on a regular basis during my first year of college, it hadn't developed into a lasting habit of mine, as it had done with so many of my peers.
It had been a week since I had found out that my father had a problem with Cocaine, and I hadn't wanted to speak to my parents at all. It was all too much to deal with, and with everything else that was happening, I didn't want any part of it. I had decided to drive up to phoenix point, a specific place at the top of a hill in Brooklyn that overlooked the rest of the city. I sighed and leaned back, breathing deeply, able to smell the lingering scent of almonds and coconuts in Natasha's hair – this was one of my favourite places to come and think – to come and relax, without any other exterior judgement or expectations.
I lay back comfortably on the top of my car hood, a hybrid, with Natasha on top of me, our growing bump in the middle, her thumbs gently stroking the lower part of my torso softly as if they belonged there. I bent my head towards her, as she looked up and I kissed her gently on the top of her forehead as she relaxed and leaned back as my arms wrapped tightly around her. It was twilight – and we both looked out just in time to watch the sun setting from the top of the horizon.
I had always believed that Natasha Baila, my fiancee, was part of my destiny, and I was hers. When I was weak, I took my strength from her, and when she was down, I was able to breathe life back into her, so she once again became the person I had fallen in love with when we had first met during high school when we were both seventeen.
Now, eight years later, and a baby on the way, not much had changed in the way we cared about and loved each other. Even though a decade had passed, it seemed like no time at all had passed between us. I loved all the little things about her – her big, almond shaped eyes, the way her hair caught the light in the sunshine, the way she looked when she slept next to me, the way her soft, lingering kisses felt on my skin, the way her lips brushed against mine. I held her tighter to me now, shifting my body underneath hers, suddenly thankful that I had moments like this where I was able to find complete escapism from reality.
“You're thinking about your dad, aren't you?” She said, her voice sounding like bells, as she looked up at me, smiling and raising a hand, stroking my face gently.
Before I could reply, she shuddered and let out a small cry as she clutched her stomach, her hands cradling the small bump that now protruded clearly, straining against the fabric of her t-shirt, her eyes closing in pain.
“What is it, baby?” I asked, suddenly anxious, my arm around her shoulder.
“Nothing... its... I think it just kicked!” She said, her hand still on bump, pressing firmly as she moved her hand around her stomach, trying to find the little source of movement so she could feel it again. She smiled as she looked up at me, grabbing my hand and placing it on her stomach lightly. I felt her stomach, waiting for a kick, some kind of movement, as all of a sudden I felt a hard thud against my skin.
I was lost for words as I felt our little bump kick for the first time, and me and Tasha couldn't stop beaming at each other, convinced it was a sign. Like us, our little bump liked the atmosphere of coming here, of being completely alone, of being somewhere that felt as if you were in another world, where things were simpler, calmer, and extraordinarily beautiful.
Tasha looked up at me, and smiled as she moved her body closer next to mine, as her lips found mine and we kissed each other, strongly and passionately than ever before.
“You have to talk to him.” Tasha said, looking up at me again as she shifted her body slightly to sit up straight, my arms still tightly wrapped around her waist. I gave her a small, stiff smile as I didn't know what to say. Since it had happened, there hadn't been a day when it hadn't entered my mind at some point, only to be put to the back of my mind all over again, only to distract me when I found myself alone and restless.
“Why? Why should I have to talk to him ever again?” I asked, looking at her face and trying not to get upset over all of this nothing, trying not to get mad all over again.
“I just can't... I can't sleep through the pain of his lies and betrayal – he's my father, but its just too soon, not for him, but for me.” I continued.
'What's going to happen, then? You judge your dad for the rest of his life because of one incident that he had the courage to own up to in the first place?”
“I don't need you to question my motives! Baby, I need your support.” I said, my voice rising.
Tasha looked at me, and sighed resolutely, stroking her stomach. “It'll be OK... “ she said as she looked up at me and tiptoed to kiss me on my lips. “Things will get better, and you'll get through this.”
I looked at her and nodded, giving her a quick kiss on the forehead. “Thank you.”
I started to get up from the hood of the car, and jumped off the hood onto the ground, before carefully helping Tasha off the car and onto her feet, putting my arm around her and kissing her hair as we walked back towards the car and drove away from our little secret concave of paradise, towards reality where life never seemed to stop changing or moving.
I wanted to go and talk to my dad, but I didn't know where to start, or what to say. I had to get my priorities in order – the truth of the matter was my family was growing and about to get bigger than just the two of us, and I wanted to be a part of it as much as possible – both mentally and physically.
As we got nearer to our apartment, I felt the mood and atmosphere between us change. On the drive back, I had managed to focus on clearing my head, blocking out any thoughts and memories that had managed to infiltrate my mind over the last couple of days. As we pulled up to the house and I helped Tasha out of the car, she flashed a wide smile at me and despite my stressful mood, her smile had always been incredibly infectious and now I couldn't help but smile back at the woman I loved.
I opened the door and walked down the hallway towards the living room, Tasha's hand intertwined with mine as I led her down the hallway to the living room where she could sit down. As I turned off and began to walk towards the living room door, I felt a small pull of my hand forcing me in the opposite direction as I looked back at what was going on. Tasha's body was a lot closer to mine now than it had been mere seconds ago, and as she stared at me, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that her face, and her body were only inches away from mine. I looked at her again as she pulled my hand again, taking charge and moving in the opposite direction away from the living room and back towards our bedroom.
Our bedroom was by far, the nicest and most luxurious room in our small apartment. The bed itself was huge and white, an antique four posted bed that had been a present from both of our parents as a recent engagement gift. The pale wooden floorboards matched the floors that ran through the entire apartment, the walls were white with white doors to match.
She looked at me and laughed, breathing and whispering sweet, sensual nothings into my ear, as my arms wrapped under hers in a soft embrace as I pressed her body against mine, my lips crushing down on hers, my hands caressing her warm brown skin, as a low moan escaped from my throat. I could feel her hands pressing down firmly against my body, as she started taking off my jacket, my sweater, as she ran her hands over my chest as I kissed her throat and caressed the nape of her neck.
Our bodies blended and tangled together to become one on the bed. The normal caution I had restrained these past few weeks on account of the baby had disappeared and we both came together – fiercer, stronger, and more passionate than ever.
I pulled my fingers slowly down her face, my fingers lightly tracing over every beautiful contour, my fingertips travelling from her jawline down to her throat and all across her stomach, and down to her waist. Our bodies connected all over again and I sighed, as she laughed, her breathy laugh ringing in my ears as I held her in my arms.
“I love you, did you know that?” I said, whispering quietly inside her ear.
“I know.” She said, laughing again.
“I honestly thought you were tired.” I said, flashing her a smile.
“No... “ Tash said, looking up at me and winking. “Sometimes... I want us to be together all the time... and it doesn't make things any easier for me when you're so incredibly hard to resist.”
My phone started to ring incessantly as I woke up, Tasha sleeping soundly next to me, and answering the phone groggily and as quickly as I could, wanting to get rid of the person who was phoning me on the other end of the line. I looked down at my caller ID to see who had been calling me at this time of the morning.
“Stacie? Do you realise what time it is?” I said, my voice incredulous now as I tried to restrain myself from shouting down the phone.
“We need to talk....” She said, her voice quieter, softer now, trying to calm my rising chagrin and irritation.
“Look, there's really nothing left to talk about anymore... just drop it.” I said, refusing to argue with her about all of our family drama so early in the morning, without even as much as a cup of coffee inside of me.
“Can you just try and see past yourself for once on this, Darren? None of us had heard from you since that night... I just wanted to know you were OK, and to talk about what we're going to do about all of this. Its tearing me apart. It just feels so surreal, and I... I just can't make sense of it. She said, her voice now resolute and despondent in my ear.
“I'm really not in the mood for a lecture right now, and I don't want to wake Tash, so can we just do this later?” I said, my voice irritable now, every fibre of my body leaning slowly backwards towards the pillows behind me on the bed.
“Fine. Look, I know you don't want to go through any of this, and neither do I, but its just something we have to do. Mum and Dad want us all to meet up tonight, not at the house, just on neutral ground. I'll send you the directions – I'll wait for you to arrive – don't let me down.” Stacie said, as I snapped my phone shut, as my head fell back into the pillows with a loud thump as Tasha softly stirred in her sleep, grimacing slightly as she pressed her hand against her stomach before it fell away again.
I felt absolutely horrible as I looked through the window to see the first morning sunlight pour into the room. I hadn't slept well the entire night and now my head felt as if it was about to explode. Awareness started to seep through me now as I realised I would have to face it all again – I would have to look my dad in the face while he would try and fail in giving us some kind of justifiable explanation as to why he had done this – why he had decided to put his family through hell.
I got out of the bed, covering Tasha with more of the bedcovers as I walked out of the room and down the hallway along to the kitchen, where I closed the door behind me and started to boil the kettle before going in search of some strong coffee, hoping this would help me make sense of everything and try and rationalise my thoughts, so I could come to a logical and fair solution.
I sat down at the table, the warm cup of coffee in between my hands, not even sure if seconds, minutes, or hours had passed until Tasha came into the kitchen, bleary eyed but awake, her long dark hair cascading down her back as she looked at me and smiled.
“Hey Sleepyhead. What's going on?” She asked, coming around the table towards me where I grabbed her and placed her on my lap lightly, her hands running through my short dark hair as she cradled my face in her hands, closing my eyes as she did so.
“Its complicated.” I said, looking up at her and giving her a short, stiff smile, wanting to reassure her that everything was going to be OK.”
“Does this have anything to do with your dad?” She asked, stroking my face as she looked at me, pointing my face towards hers.
“Stacie called me this morning.... apparently we all need to meet up again, to talk things over, I guess.”
“And? What do you think about it all?”
“I don't know... I just... I can't... I'm just so angry.... “
“Do you want me to be honest about all of this?” Tasha asked me, her expression hesitant, not knowing what was going to happen next. I nodded as I waited patiently for her to speak.
Tasha grabbed my hands and held them close to her heart as she looked at me. “Don't. Don't do this...please.” She said, her voice just a quiet whisper as she looked at me. “He's your dad, and whether you like it or not, you can't shut this all out for much longer. I know you've been distant, unemotional... and I think if you reached out to your dad, despite everything, things would get better, I promise. You trust me, don't you?”
I nodded as I looked up at her and smiled, not knowing what to say. Once again Tasha had rendered me speechless, and I often tried my best not to contemplate or even entertain the notion of living my life without her. I looked away into the trees as I thought about this, about what my family life had come to, how the situation I was in now was something I never could have imagined happening.
“OK. I'll go along... tonight. The man deserves one last chance for redemption, at least.” I said.
Thinking back to that night, I felt like I had no choice but to walk away – walk away and leave it all behind. All of the pain I was holding onto still hadn't left me and I didn't have any idea about what to say when I saw my dad again. It wasn't the fact that my dad had done cocaine, everybody makes mistakes. It was the fact that he had kept on using it for so long, unashamed and unware of the effect this would have on all of us when we found out what he had been doing, and I was angry and upset that this had failed to resonate long enough in his mind to make him stop.
I had heard every word that my mum had said that night, and even now, it seemed like it was too late for my dad to try and apologise. I had promised to go along to please Tasha and Stacie, but I had no expectations – I expected nothing from my dad anymore. I was afraid to accept this idea as he had never failed to disappoint me before, and this was proving to be more than I could handle. Nevertheless, I needed the chance to tell him how I really felt, even if his atonement didn't manage to help him.
Mum had been the only one that had been able to read and decode the signs, working out what had been going on all of this time. Now it was up to the rest of us to wonder how we had ended up here, how this had happened right in front of our eyes without anybody noticing any sooner. I used to know my dad inside out, and there wasn't anything that anybody could tell me that could make me love him any less, but now that bubble had burst, and my thoughts had become sabotaged with endless memories of my dad now ruined by this one sudden revelation that had rendered our family lost and numb.
Late evening came, and Tasha was still at work as I finally started to get ready, pulling on a pair of jeans and a jumper over me before walking outside for the first time since I had woken up that day. I sighed heavily as I made my way towards the car, looking up at the sky to see it clear and black, with not a star or a cloud in sight.
Stacie had called me again later on that day to give me the address, reaching into my back pocket and grabbing the folded up piece of paper, reading the address of Montepulciano, an Italian restaurant in my parents' neighbourhood that had always been an understated favourite of theirs, as I got into the car and drove off, not knowing what to expect, but hoping to make the best of a bad situation.
The waiting and wondering had been driving me insane all day as I got nearer and nearer to the restaurant. If it hadn't been for the gentle and powerful persuasions of both Stacie and Natasha, I didn't really plan to have much more of a relationship with my father, at least for the time being.
But my family were all expecting me to show up, assuming I would be in some kind of untouchable and fierce state – like an angry bull with a red rag tied to its horns. They'd be right too, as I was in a state where nothing made sense anymore – it was all so surreal. As I pulled my car into the valet parking, I got out and could see my family inside the restaurant out of the corner of my eye. As I turned and faced the window, I felt a smile pull at the corners of my mouth. The image was so familiar, and yet so far from what was now a reality. Mum and Stacie were sat next to each other, and dad was seated on the opposite side, talking to the both of them, mum with a smile on her face and Stacie laughing out loud as her animated expression was clear for everyone to see, which everyone did and took advantage in grabbing their opportunity to stare. I was used to this – constant questions about her and her appearance, questions about her personality and what she was like. Stacie also had had her fair share of queries and questions about me too, but these were of a slightly lesser extent.
I walked into the restaurant, the natural light of the setting sun in the sky providing a natural hue that cast into the restaurant as the door opened. My family looked up at once – Dad being the first and most elated upon seeing my silhouette in the doorway, and judged my direction – heading straight towards the table, where my empty seat next to him remained inescapable and if questioned, would ruin the mood and atmosphere.
I slowed down to a stop before looking at my father pointedly and then towards my mother and sister.
“Glad you came.” Dad said, looking at me and flashing me a short, quick smile.
I gritted my teeth and grunted, nodding slowly, before giving him a stiff smile in order to avoid any hostility on my part, deciding not to cause trouble two minutes into my arrival.
“Let's just get this over with.” I said, keeping my eyes focused on the menu – its inconsequential words passing over my head, sitting down with a small thud.
“Darren... please... look at me.” He said, his voice ringing heavily in my ears. I shifted my downward glance from the menu slowly up to his face.
“What?” I asked, my expression still and empty. He stared at me for a long moment, and I returned his gaze as seconds, and then minutes slowly passed between us.
“Don't do this, don't shut me out.” He said.
I turned away from him and looked at the ground before I could look at him again.
“Don't be such a hypocrite. I won't sit here with you and do this while you churn out some desperate sob story. How could you do this? How could you sit there and lie to my mum, to all of us, for months on end and not even give any of it a second thought?”
“Its not easy for me... all of this has been incredibly hard... I know I've made lots of mistakes but I want to correct them, but I need to know I have your support and that you can trust me to end this. That's all I'm asking.”
“Fine. Explain it to me. Help me understand what was going through your head when you sat there night after night and lied to us? What was it? Protection? Sacrifice?” I said, turning my body towards him and looking at him dead on in the eye.
“Yes – all of those things – and more. The more I did it, the more ashamed I felt. I tried to convince myself everyday that I would stop, that that day would be the last, and then once I stopped, I wouldn't have to tell anybody or bring it up inside my head ever again.”
“Look, I want things to be different – and this time it will be. This is a second chance for our family to really come together and support each other... and to be completely honest. It can still be just like its always been... I really believe I can get through this. I need my family on my side, I can't do this on my own, I need everyone's help... your mum, you, your sister, Tasha, my grandchild....”
“What? I told you... “
“I know, but... Darren please! Are you really going to stop your child growing up without me? Without knowing every person in their family just over one stupid, stupid mistake? Besides, I talked to Tasha....”
“You talked to her?”
“She said we might be able to work something out... if I was serious and I could prove myself, and she agreed.”
“I don't believe this... I was so angry that I started to consider living without you in my life, but I came here and believed we could work this all out... I can't believe you went behind my back!”
“Darren, talking to Tasha is nothing compared to what I'm dealing with... “
“Its nothing to you, but its everything to me. You should have come to me first. I'm the one that said it, what makes you think that Tasha can help you? Nobody can help you until you help yourself. On your own. You shouldn't have to rely on us to rectify your own mistakes.”
“What are you saying?” My father said, his expression cold and stony.
“I don't know... If you need my support.... you have to prove yourself, not just once but over and over again until you come out of this. I know you need somebody – us – to help you. We're the only ones who can. But for your sake, don't let me down, or you really will lose me – you'll lose me, Tash, and your grandchild. I'll make sure of it.”
The truth of the matter was life was just too short to hold a grudge. And much as I hated what he had done, I didn't know if I hated my father. I had shown up, given my support, but things weren't going to snap back to what they had been automatically. My father's further confession about his conversation with Tasha had once again caught me off guard and had thrown me. Somehow although I was pleased that I could find a way to come to terms with this by agreeing to show my support for my father, I couldn't sit around the table, eat food, and pick up where we left of playing happy families. I stared at my father and looked around the table, both at my mother and my sister, flashing them simultaneous smiles before I got up slowly and walked out of the restaurant.
“Bye, Dad. I'm sorry... you have my support...and I hope for your sake, you know what you are doing. But playing happy families is all too much for me right now... sorry.”
As I walked past the table, Stacie grabbed my hand and shook her head, looking at me, her expression as cold and as hard as ice.
I looked over towards my mother as she spoke, looking at me, a careful yet loving look in her eyes. “Baby, that's not what we're doing. I'm just trying to get us all back around to a small semblance of normality. That's it.”
“I can't... this is about as much as I can handle right now... I'm sorry.” I said, grabbing my phone and keys from my pocket, and walked out the restaurant towards the parking area outside.
I opened the car door, slamming it shut behind me as I sat down in the driving seat, my hands tightening around the wheel. I started up the car as the engine roared to life as I made my way down the freeway, trying to clear my mind before I got home. As I switched the gearstick up to fifth and pressed my foot right down against the accelarator, the car still wasn't as fast as I would have liked. I wasn't going to worry or concetrate on anything else now – I would go as far as I wanted, and if the police happened to catch me for speeding, I would deal with that when I needed to, claiming temporary insanity if I had to. I turned off the freeway, not bothering to check whether or not this was the right exit. As I sped down the empty streets filled with bright spotlights getting closer to home, I slowed down to forty, concentrating on my driving skills more than I needed to, as I turned onto the end of my road, pretty sure that the car motor would alert Tasha to hearing me arrive home – safely at least. I cut the engine and listened intently to the quiet – the silence.
As I parked in the small driveway and got out of the car, once again slamming the door heavily and loudly behind me, there was no way for me to hide my intentions as I walked swiftly towards the flat, letting myself through the front door and walking down the hallway towards the bedroom where I automatically started pacing up and down the room, trying to calm myself, even though this was having the exact opposite effect.
My footsteps reverberated around the room, through the open door, and out into the hallway, reminding Tasha that I was now home, and as I paced up and down, back and forth, it wasn't long before I looked up to find her leaning on the doorframe, dressed in a long satin camisole, her long hair in dark, tumbling curls down to her waist, a pensive and sullen expression all over her face.
“How did it go?” She asked, stepping forward into the room as she looked at me, waiting for a reply.
“It was fine. Did you talk to my father?” I asked, wanting an answer, wanting to know what had happened.
“Yeah. I was going to talk to you about that...” She said, coming closer towards me now,her hand on my bicep.
“I'm sorry... I just wanted to help. Anyway I could.” She said, looking at me, a brooding expression on my face.
“I love you, but you have to let me in. If something is bothering you, then I need to know about it.”
A pained expression came over my face. “Why? You shouldn't have to get in the middle of this – of any of it.”
“I'm here for you – I'm always here.- that's what love is. I would tell you if there was something bothering me.”
“Yeah, all the fucking time!” I said, suddenly angry and annoyed.
“What? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“This is my business, and you didn't need to get in the middle of it! You should have just stayed out of it and left it alone!”
“So I was just supposed to watch you moan and tear yourself up inside without caring? If you want me to be a part of this family – a part of your family, then you need to open up to me sometimes. Over the past fortnight ever since that night, you've tried so hard to disguise yourself with denial... and it hasn't worked.” I looked at her for a long moment as the minutes passed between us both standing still and silent inside the room.
Tasha shook her head, her hand resting lightly on her hair as she pointed towards the door, tears filling up her eyes silently as she looked at me.
“Darren – if you want to leave, then just go.” She said, directing her gaze towards the bedroom door as I walked out.
Stacie Anderson [ Hillside Villas, Gramercy, New York City]

Today would be the first day I would head back into the dance studio without Ben. As I woke up too early on Monday morning, I lay in bed for a couple of minutes absorbing this thought – wondering if my dance career would ever be as close to something special as it had been throughout this past year that I had been working with Ben.
This time last year, I had been offered the chance to star in the biggest dance production to date that had taken place in New York, and I couldn't believe my luck as I was given a prototype of what my rigorous schedule was to look like for the year ahead. The schedule was unbeliveably punishing and rigorous, but worth it when I thought about the fact that I had worked hard and graduated past all the dancers in New York City who were in the exact same position as me, all of us fighting it out silently and competitively at every audition, every casting call, all for this one golden opportunity we all didn't want to pass up.
It had been just over two months since I had found out about the dark secret that my father had been hiding from me – from all of us, and since he had decided to break the news, I had fallen into a pattern of things which I needed to drastically reassess. I had tried to rebuild things with my father, my parents, and tried to console Darren, as he was still coming to terms with the news and struggling to show his support, his most recent thinking was that he thought it was better to stay away completely until things had returned to normal rather than force the situation to be weird and awkward between everybody, resulting in things being what they shoudn't be. Between my dual role in all of this, I still couldn't and didn't want to find the time to sit down and work out how I really felt about everything that had happened, scared and nervous of taking too many steps back and the possibility of recognising something which I didn't want to acknowledge. To avoid this, I had thrown myself back into dancing as much as possible, every new day in the studio bringing me a little bit more therapy and small relief from the bigger picture of all the chaos and anarchy that was going on with my family life.
This hadn't gone unnoticed by Winona, and when she came to check on me in our flat after just having returned home from work last night, I took the opportunity to apologise to her for not spending time with my best friend. I tried to explain the situation, as I had kept all of it pretty close to my heart and kept her out of the loop, so she had no idea how much this was all affecting me, thinking that I could get through it on my own and we could go back to the way we had always been. I explained about my father, my mother, the cocaine, the fact that I was trying to rebuild bridges, and that I recently had to be on high alert following Darren's uncomprehension about the entire nightmare.
As we sat opposite each other around the open plan living room table, Win reached across the table and held my hand, stroking my palm gently and smiling at me, before she winked and gave me a cheeky grin.
“Don't get upset about all of this – things have a way of working themselves out. You've chosen to be there for your family over the past fortnight, and that's OK – they need you, just like I know you need them. “
“I'm so sorry, Win. I just haven't handled this very well at all. I thought I could get through all of this by myself, that I could deal with it and things could go back to normal. Things have been so screwed up – Darren's inconsolable, Gail's reached breaking point, and Simon's drawn in and pensive over what to do now, so my life hasn't been great when my family's in a complete mess. But in hindsight, my unhappiness increased because things with you were different – we weren't us. I'm sorry.” I said, looking at her and hoping she would understand where I was coming from.
“Don't stress, baby. You're my best friend, one of the most important people in my world – you didn't think I'd give up on you that easy did you?”
I moved my body uncomfortably around in my bed, before I gave up and got out of bed completely. I walked out of the door and into the kitchen, bleary eyed and tired after sleeping erratically, to find Win out of bed, ready and dressed for work, a cup of coffee in her hand and a smile as she turned and said good morning.
“I made you some tea.” She said, as I walked past her and jumped up onto the ceramic breakfast bar, taking the ceramic mug out of her hands and sipping the strong black coffee gently, forcing myself to wake up and try to come to terms with what I had to do today.
“Well, I'm not sure what your day's going to be like, but whatever it is, good luck, I know you're going to be great, and I have absolute complete faith in you, so don't panic.” She said, winking at me again as she finished the last dregs out of her mug, grabbing her bag up from off the floor beside her, before saying goodbye and stroking our cat, Jella, under the ears as she walked out of the door.
“Oh, and by the way, I don't know who you're dealing with as Ben's replacement, but I do feel slightly sorry for him, you've got that angsty look in your eye!!” Win said, peeping back around the door and chuckling to herself loudly as she had the infectious laugh of a four year old toddler.
I laughed. “Very funny. First Darren, now you. Will you get out of here, please before I turn against you, too?”