Ana slipped into a funk after hearing what Charlie had to say about her all those weeks ago.
“Poor thing. It’s like she’s wilted.” Allie said as me and her slunk into a booth. I nodded automatically and looked out onto the frosted world around us. Winter had really come on strong.
“Yeah, she’s startin’ to look really depressed.” Squid said without looking up from his phone. I ignored him.
As Ana sat down with our orders, I noticed that her eyes seemed puffier than usual. The stuff that ringed her eyes, mascara, was dry and crumbly.
Her hair was pulled up in a messy bun, nothing like how she usually had it done, so shiny and well-styled, I guess.
“Hey.” I reached out for her hand, usually so well manicured, but her polish was chipped and peeling. “You doin’ alright?”
She sniffed. “Yeah,” She grinned at me and tabbed the leg of my glasses. “You look cute with those clear frames.”
My cheeks heated up. “I prefer contacts.” It wad true; the things were pretty heavy and clunky. And I thought they made my eyes look way, way too big.
But that was beside the point. I gestured to the plate that was set in front of her, piled high with thick-cut sweet potato fries and giant salt crystals.
“But I would also prefer that you start eating. You barely touched your lunch today.”
Ana rolled her eyes and scoffed, just a little bit. “Quinnie, please..”
“Ana, please..” I rebutted. The knot of anxiety that had been sitting in my stomach tightened all over again. “Take at least a few bites.”
She offered me a small grin, picked two fries from the top of the stack and dunked ‘em both into a little cup of ketchup at once.
Good. She was eating. The knot started to loosen. I settled back into my seat and uncapped my Coke. It bubbled and went flat with a little hiss.
“Soo..” Allie chomped at a chocolate chip cookie she’d bought from the display at the register. She offered the three of us a shiteating grin.
That didn’t mean anything good.
“..the winter dance is coming up..” She sang, drumming her press-on nails against the tabletop.
“Nope.” Squid said, absolutely deadpan.
Well, that only left Ana and I to be subject to her wrath. We exchanged glances and looked back at her.
“We could go as a group,” Ana suggested, giving me an expectant look.
“Yeah.” I ran a hand through my hair. “As long as Charlie doesn’t show up.”
Allie’s cheeks went red, and Ana’s eyes went dim.
Needless to say, it was a pretty quiet hour and a half, and we parted with awkward goodbyes.
Ana and I sidled up next each other as our ears and noses reddened from the cold.
“I..I think we should consider going to the dance, for real.” She told me softly.
“No dice, buttercup.” I laughed. “I’ve got two left feet, and that’s that.”
She punched me in the shoulder lightly, like she did every single day. “Come on, babe. At least let me show you the box step.”
The spark in her eyes started to flicker. It..it made her happy; who was I to refuse her that?
We made our ways down the winding streets until we reached it, a tiny place sandwiched in between a desolate shoeshine place and a Starbucks. In hot-pink cursive letter were the words that defined Ana’s world;
Miss Marikova’s School of Dance.
She had been there since she could toddle, and had been such a loyal student, she had her own keys to the place. She pulled a Hello Kitty keychain from her pocket and turned to key into the rusted lock.
She flicked on the lights in the waiting room, where we were greeted with a dimming, naked lightbulb and beat-up, ripped vinyl-cushioned seats lined the walls.
“No one’s here during the winter season.” Ana whispered, and shut the door behind us- the chill was starting to seep in after us.
We slipped into the studio, clean, white and minimalistic. Barre, mirror and all.
We slipped off our boots, shed our coats, and slung our bags to the floor without another care in the world.
She skated onto the hardwood and started dancing to the orchestra’s tunes in her heads. Her muscles flexed and fluttered, her brows scrunched, her chest rose and fell in time with the beats I couldn’t hear.
She finished with a lilting pirouette, and I gave her a standing ovation, except I was already on my feet.
She twisted her hair into a neat chignon, and extended a hand to me.
She was right about the box-step.
Step to the left, put your feet together, step forward, put your feet together.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Eventually, I got so good at it that I decided to get fancy with it, and dipped her, tango-style.
Of course, that didn’t go over well and we collapsed into a heap of giggles. I loomed over her, on all fours. Our gazes met, and I just..felt…something.
I leaned in and pressed the most tender kiss I could to her neck.
She let out a strangled scream and rolled out from under me, knees pulled up to her chest.
“Buttercup, did I hurt you?” I helped her sit up, shaking like a leaf. Ana’s eyes darted over to me, then to the floor, and back again. She was rubbing the spot where I had touched her, mouthing empty words.
“That’s where my..ex decided to start it all.” She muttered. And that’s when the dam burst. I held her shaking frame and just sat there with her, in that empty ballet studio, trying to keep me and her from falling to pieces all at once.