Unravel, page 5
The room has gone deathly silent, and I realize my words came out far louder than I intended.
Liam’s hazel eyes spark with anger. He turns to address the rest of the room. “I didn’t tell you to stop. Did I?”
Suddenly there is a flurry of commotion all around. Liam starts walking towards the door. He waves his hand for us to follow. “Come. Both of you.”
I guess I’m about to get chewed out, and honestly, I deserve it. I yelled at Liam in front of everyone, in the middle of rehearsal. What has gotten into me? I have never done something like this before.
Seth squeezes my hand and gives me a nervous grimace as Liam leads us up the hall and to the smaller studio.
Inside Liam rolls his shirt sleeves up, crouches down to one knee, and widens his arms. “I’m going to demonstrate this movement, so pay attention.” He makes a come hither movement with his fingertips and my mouth goes dry. “Slow the first time.”
His thigh is solid and firm beneath the arch of my foot. His hand is warm and perilously close to my crotch. He swings me over and behind his shoulders in slow motion, draping me around his body like I am weightless, and suddenly I’m thankful for the fact that I’m supposed to be limp and ungraceful. I can’t concentrate on anything except sucking air in and out of my lungs. “Do you see now?” he asks Seth.
Seth nods, and Liam carries me closer to address me in the mirror. “Penny, you can make it easier on Seth. Throw your leg over more.” He gently tugs my thigh so my center is firm against his shoulder, and I swallow back a tiny whimper. “The same with your arm, and you can hook your elbow against his bicep too.”
Oh, god. Please, tell me he can’t feel my heat pressed against his shoulder. My nipples are drawn into aching tips that I can’t hide. I really should be wearing another layer beneath this thing.
“Does that make sense?” Liam asks.
I nod quickly, unable to meet his eyes in our reflection, and Liam sets me back down.
We run through it five more times, going a bit faster with each pass. By the fifth, I am wet, panting, and resisting the urge to hump against Liam’s shoulder.
My, god. What in the world is wrong with me?
Then he has me try again with Seth, and there is absolutely no fear of me inadvertently humping anything. Liam watches with a blank expression. He has us do it a few times more. “Better. Much better. Actually, that’s perfect. Good job.” Liam wanders closer as Seth sets me back down on the ground. “I keep forgetting you two come from a pure ballet background, so maybe we’ll try some more hands on instruction in the future.” He gives Seth’s shoulder a gentle pat. “Do you mind if I have a word with Penny?”
Seth doesn’t, and Liam’s eyes follow him out of the room. When he turns his attention back to me, the set of his mouth is so severe, it’s all I can do not to cower. “The way you spoke to me in there was completely inappropriate.”
“You should be, but… I’ll make you a deal. I won’t call you Penelope again, and you’ll watch your tone in rehearsal. Yes?”
Wrapping my arms around my shoulders, I manage a feeble nod.
“If you have a problem, pull me aside, and we’ll discuss it.” Liam’s face softens considerably, and he stares at me for a long moment like there’s something else he wants to say.
“I really am sorry,” I murmur.
“Do you need a minute?”
I nod again. My eyes follow him in the mirror, then I catch sight of myself. Maybe he mistook my flush face for embarrassment. I can only hope, and the truth is I am feeling pretty embarrassed too.
He’s a jerk, right? A self-important ass?
I don’t know what to think anymore, but I have worked with jerks and self-important asses in the past, and none of them would’ve handled that situation like Liam just now. He was ridiculously easy on me.
Grosse vache. Rubbing my hands over my scalding cheeks, I tried to conjure the hateful cadence of his voice, but that memory is old and faded. The memory of his hands on me, and his scent, and the way he sounds now is painfully fresh and increasingly harder to ignore.
I stalked to the bathroom and splashed my face with cold water. What I could really use right now is a cold shower. The very last thing I need to do is subject myself to hands on instruction with Penny. I don’t know what it is about her, but she’s gotten under my skin terribly. She’s beautiful, but so are plenty of other women, yet none of them have soft, grey eyes that haunt my dreams, or delicate ankles I want to lick.
Her cool indifference and smart mouth should be plenty to offset this fleeting attraction, which is all it is, and all it can be, I remind myself.
She’s quick tempered, and impossible to read, and more trouble than she’s worth. I really should make good on that threat of choosing another dancer for this gala, because the last thing I need is more time spent one-on-one with Penny.
Even before I make my way back to the studio to finish rehearsal, I already know I can’t do that. Not giving Penny the part because I’m attracted to her would be wrong. I just need to deal with it, get through it, and move on.
Two weeks before the opening of Unravel, and she’s still dancing from the devil. What is her devil? Why does she dance like this? It’s just past six on a sunday morning. The theater isn’t even open today. I’m only here to meet with someone to see about the stage scenery I’m having built, and she’s already at the barre, covered in a mild sheen of sweat.
I’ve ascertained that she’s not an attention whore, or fiercely competitive. Perhaps she is a dyed-in-the-wool type after all, but I’m not so sure. She’s dancing en pointe to pop music pouring out of her phone laid on the floor, no particular choreography that I can discern. Her movements aren’t sloppy, but they are far from precise. If this were rehearsal, I’d have a few comments for her, but since it’s not, I bite my tongue and watch.
I don’t lurk behind a crack in the door this time. I shove it open, and stand in plain sight, leaned up against the doorframe, but she doesn’t notice me for a while. When she does, her eyes widen for a moment in the mirror at me, then she fixes her face into a mask of neutrality. Penny reaches down to turn off the music. She picks up her coffee and starts toward the garbage can.
“Don’t throw that away, Penny.”
“I’m not supposed to have it in here.”
“I won’t tell, if you won’t.”
Giving me a guarded and suspicious look, like this might be a trick or a test, she takes a slow sip.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“How did you get in here?”
“Can you keep a secret?”
I chuckle under my breath. “Yes.”
“Andrea gave me a key.”
“Ah. When you said secret, I was expecting something a bit more scandalous.”
“She told me not to tell.”
“Your secret is safe with me, Penny. Why are you here so early?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“You haven’t been to sleep yet?”
“No, I slept, but I woke up too early. Why are you here so early?”
I blink at her a few times, a little surprised that she bothered to ask in the first place. This would usually be about the time she leaves the room, or rudely turns her back on me. “I’m here to meet some workers that will be building the stage scenery for the new show.”
She presses her lips together, and her eyes shine with mischief. “The cubes.”
“That’s right.” I walk closer, letting the door fall closed behind me. “Something tells me you’re not a fan of the cubes.”
A flicker of a smile plays across her lips and she shrugs.
“You can tell me the truth.”
“I’m not a fan.”
“They are just a backdrop. Elaborate s
“Then why have them at all?”
“It’s a bit open to interpretation,” I say vaguely.
Penny snorts a laugh. “If you say so.”
I tilt my head, and study her face. There is no obvious animosity or hostility stamped across her delicate features. Why do I care so much what she thinks? It’s as much a mystery to me as everything else about Penny. “You don’t believe me?”
“I don’t think it matters what I believe.”
“Why wouldn’t it matter?”
“It’s your story. It’s not my job to interpret it. It’s my job to do what you tell me.”
“But how can you bring something to life if you don’t believe in it?”
The muscles along her jaw shift almost imperceptibly. “I’ve played the sugar plum fairy, and I don’t believe I’m a fairy. I’ve played Manon, and I’m not a slutty diamond digger. I bet you’ve played Prince Charming a time or two. In fact I know you have, but it doesn’t make you a prince, now does it?”
Okay, now I’m detecting some definite anger. My god this girl confounds me, but for some reason I’m charmed by her frankness, even when it nudges the line of rude. “Fair enough. I suppose you don’t have to believe in it.”
“Exactly. You said it yourself. I don’t have to like it, or understand it, I just have to do it.”
“But why do you do it in the first place?”
“Because it’s my job.”
“It doesn’t have to be. You could be doing something else.”
Her eyes are grey stone behind tiny slits. “Are you threatening me?”
“No! Good Lord. I’m just… Penny, I’m trying to understand you.”
“Because I’m curious.”
“Why be curious about me?”
“Well, you shouldn’t be. I’m nobody.” She drops her coffee in the trash, and starts to move past me.
Before I can stop myself, my hand shoots out to grasp lightly around her upper arm. She freezes. Her breath hitches. A blush stains up her neck and across her face. Not for the first time, I’m confronted with the very strong suspicion that this attraction I feel doesn’t flow just one way. “Penny…”
She stares straight ahead but doesn’t make any motion to pull away from my touch. “What do you want?” she breathes.
What don’t I want from this girl? I want to figure her out. I want to find out what sound she makes when she comes. I want to see what she looks like in the morning with messy hair. I want to understand why she dances. “Are you with Seth?”
“Are you together? Are the two of you a couple?”
She huffs a laugh. “What makes you think that?”
“Because he’s constantly touching you, and… fondling you?”
“Fondling?” she giggles. “We’re friends. He does it as a joke. He does that to be funny.”
“Funny?” Personally, I’ve failed to find the humor in it. Watching him paw and grope Penny infuriates me. I’ve been biting my tongue about it for weeks.
Before I know what’s happening, my other hand is on her opposite shoulder, walking her back the two steps so she is pressed against the wall, and I am pressed against her. “Is this funny?”
Panting shallow breaths, she shakes her head towards my chest.
“Is it funny?” I ask again, tracing the edge of her jaw with my thumb. I draw a line down her neck, pausing over the rapid strum of her pulse. “What is this, Penny?”
“I-I don’t know,” she whispers.
My other hand strokes along her arm, down to her hip. I grip her firmly, and pull her against me. “Penny, is this funny? You’re not laughing.”
No, she isn’t laughing. Penny bites her lip against a whimper, her chest rising and falling rapidly. I tip her chin up towards me. Her grey eyes are swirling with heat, and something else I can’t discern immediately, or perhaps I just don’t want to face it. That something else is like a cold wave washing over me.
Penny looks frightened, and why wouldn’t she be? I’m far larger than her, and I have her backed up against the wall, literally and figuratively. I’m in a position of power over her, which makes what I’m doing right now wrong on a number of levels.
I take a big step back. “Penny, I’m sorry.”
“Are you?” Her eyes glisten with unshed tears.
“Yes. I am. I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
“I don’t understand you, Liam. I really don’t. I thought I did, but… I don’t understand Unravel, and I don’t understand what you’re doing here in the first place.”
“I told you, I’m meeting someone about the stage-”
“No, what are you doing here. What is Liam Thibault doing at this little, unknown theater.”
“Can you keep a secret?”
She blinks at me a few times. “Yes.”
The tiniest hint of a smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. “Yes.”
“I admire Andrea a great deal. I have for a long time, and I admire what she’s trying to do here, but this place is about belly up.”
I nod solemnly. “But that stays between us. She doesn’t want to alarm anyone. This show and this gala, it’ll keep things humming along for another few years, but… I don’t know. I wish I could talk some sense into her. If she moved to a better location, I think things might be different, but she’s very attached to this building.”
Penny pauses to look around the empty, spacious room. “It’s a nice place.”
“The neighborhood isn’t.”
“It’s all those abandoned buildings, and yeah, this part of town has really went downhill in the last ten years or so.” Penny shakes her head. “I wish she had said something.”
“It’s her job to worry about keeping the lights on, and it’s your job to dance.”
One which I wasn’t making very easy for her at the moment, was I?
My ex-wife Elise may be far from my favorite person, but some of the things she had to put up with rising in the ranks are things no woman should have to endure, and it happens all the time. Directors, ballet masters, and choreographers prey on young and naive dancers. It’s a disgusting practice that people turn a blind eye to, one which I abhor.
Has Penny fallen victim to that sort of thing in the past? Maybe that’s why she is so cool and distant with me. In fact, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.
My stomach twists in disgust at what I’ve done, a past wound I may have aggravated or opened fresh.
“That will not happen again, Penny. Ever. I am truly sorry. A man in my position has no business doing that. It’s completely inappropriate.”
“It’s okay,” she says in a small voice.
“No, it’s not okay. You are talented, and a hard worker. And you’re right. This is your job, one you do well. You don’t deserve to put up with that sort of nonsense from me, or anyone else.”
She wraps her arms around her torso, hugging herself tight. Her eyes skitter across my face and down to a spot on the floor between us. “You’re making it really hard to dislike you, Liam.”
Rubbing my jaw, I blink at her. “Is that a bad thing? Do you want to dislike me for some reason?”
Penny shrugs, and makes a movement towards the door, but I stop her.
“I’m leaving. I won’t bother you in here again, not outside of rehearsal. See you tomorrow, Penny.”
“I thought he was going to kiss me.”
Seth rolls across my bed until he is stretched out on his belly. He props his chin on his hands. “Why didn’t you kiss him?”
I shrug and lean forward to adjust the tension on the overhead bobbin of my sewing machin
Seth stretches over lazily to retrieve them, and hands them over. “Well?”
I slide them over my nose and lean forward. “I didn’t really see the point.”
“Didn’t see the point? He’s freaking Liam Thibault.”
“So? He’s just a man.”
“Just a man?” Seth laughs sarcastically. “Okay, following that line of logic, he’s still a hot man, right?”
“He’s too old. He’s forty two.”
“He doesn’t look it. I bet he doesn’t fuck like it either. If I thought for one second he’d swing my way, I’d be all over him.”
“I think he was just trying to get a point across.”
“Yeah. The point of his dick.”
I give Seth a withering glance. “No. The point that you and I could behave a bit more professionally. Less groping and fondling.”
“But you’re fun to grope and fondle.”
“Pervert.” Smiling, I shake my head at Seth, then fix my attention back on the seam I’m trying to stitch. He stops grilling me about Liam for a moment so I can concentrate. Tarlatan and tulle are difficult to work with, and the fabric is relatively expensive. I had it cut precisely to avoid waste and I can’t afford to mess this up. Once I finish, I stand up, and ask Seth to hold it for me. It’s a structured tutu, in garrish hot pink and bright purple with many stiff layers which I fluff and arrange.
“This is atrocious,” Seth points out as I stand back to survey my work.
I smile and shrug, not taking offence. I know exactly what he means. “It’s what they wanted. They requested these colors specifically, and I still have to glue on rhinestones along the trim.”
Seth grimaces. “What is it for?”
“They didn’t say.”
Most of the orders that come through my website don’t specify, but occasionally someone will send along a comment in the appropriate box - This is for halloween, my daughter’s quinceanera, a bachelorette party. Tutus aren’t only for ballet, although I get requests of that sort too. I also make other things, but that’s how I started before slowly branching out.
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