Unravel, page 8
I start to crack up. Dramatic outbursts might not be something I can pull off, but Paige has always excelled at them. “I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. I’m sure one of them will lose interest sooner or later.”
“Well, if you broke up with that no talent dweeb, then you are definitely coming to thanksgiving this year. There is no way in hell I’m going to sit across the table from that gold-digging skank by myself. No way.”
For the past several years I’ve used the excuse that we were going to see John’s parents during the holidays just to avoid Foster. “I might be busy.”
“On thanksgiving? Come on.”
I swallow back a sigh, and nod my assent. I’ll go. I don’t really have a good reason not to anymore.
My anger and resentment towards Foster is a complete mystery to Paige, but there are so many things about her father she doesn’t know. Many of those things I honestly wish I didn’t know either.
For whatever reason, our mother confided in me. Once I reached adulthood, it was like a switch flipped and it was suddenly okay for her to call late at night, drunk and tearful, to unload her suspicions onto me. Maybe she just needed someone to talk to. I should’ve come home, but everytime I mentioned it, she made me swear not to. I was supposed to carry on in New York. Keep dancing. Keep trying to make a name for myself.
“Let’s go get something to eat,” Paige suggests. “Are you hungry? You look like you’re starving.”
I force a faint laugh, not sure if that was a dig or not. While I dress, Paige swivels around and studies her reflection in the mirror, lifting her chin and tilting her head from side to side. She dips her fingers in the stack of pancake makeup and dabs a bit under her eyes, then wipes it back off.
This time we are to be photographed on stage for the promo shots since the scenery is too big, heavy and cumbersome to move. It’s far easier for John to drag all his equipment here.
Seated stiffly on top of a small box draped in dark fabric, I run my palms over the filmy, gauzy, layered skirt. I made a new one, and gave it proper stitching and a bit of stiff backing around the hips. The pinkish peach color is the same as the mockup. I’d thought Liam might want something more dramatic, a color that would contrast more sharply, but he said he liked the way it complimented my skintone. “You look lovely in this,” is how he’d phrased it, from close enough I could feel his breath, with an inflection that made my lower belly tense.
I’m feeling a bit tense right now for an entirely different reason. Liam is off to the side discussing quietly with John. He has examples from past shows, and thoughts on what he’d like to do differently this time. Andrea is present as well, dressed in her familiar head-to-toe black, her crepey skin appears ghastly against the dark shade. She’s currently ignoring all of us for her phone.
We are only waiting on Seth, who is running behind. Having this photoshoot on a saturday morning was probably a mistake. When Seth does eventually arrive, I’m sure he’ll be hungover and sleepy, with puffy eyes and a grumpy disposition.
John wanders closer to adjust the photography lamps set up around the area in a semi-circle. “I called,” he says quietly.
My eyes shift over to where Liam is chatting with Andrea. I pick at a rough, uneven bit of cuticle around my thumb. “I noticed, but I didn’t see the point in picking up. I already know what you want to talk about, and it’s not a conversation we need to have.”
“What do you mean?”
I fling my hands out, making a conscious effort to keep my voice low. “Us working together today. You were right before. We’re both adults. There’s no reason to let our past interfere with the present. I can be professional. You should know that.”
John waved a light meter close to my face. “That wasn’t what I wanted to talk about.”
“Oh. Hell. No.” Seth’s voice booms. “What is he doing here? Can someone answer me that? What the hell is he doing here?”
I try to give Seth a look, which he completely ignores. Andrea gives Seth a weary look of her own, and Liam looks utterly baffled.
“I’m just here to do my job,” John says.
“Seth, just let him take the pictures so we can get this over with,” I plead.
“Uh, no. There is no way I’m letting this little-dick pig take my picture, or yours either. He’s a disgusting pig who made you cry. Fuck him.” Seth turns to address John directly. “You’re a disgusting pig, John. Fuck you.”
“Seth,” Andrea says calmly and sweetly. “Let’s just take it down a notch. Whatever is wrong, I’m sure we can sort it out.”
Tears sting my eyes. I just want to get through this nightmare, but that is never going to happen with Seth ranting and raving. “I’m over it. Just let him do his job.”
“What is this about?” Liam asks.
“This little-dick, pig got down on one knee and proposed to Penny. God knows why she said yes. I mean, look at him. John, you’re a grown man with a ponytail. It’s disgraceful.”
The world around me grows watery as my vision clouds with moisture. “Seth, please.”
“No, Penny. You should not have to make nice with the man who broke your heart. It’s not fair.” Seth whirled around to wave a finger in John’s face. “If you can’t please one woman, why go after a second? Huh?”
John barks a sarcastic laugh. “What in the hell would you know about it?”
“I know plenty about satisfying women. I have satisfied more than I can count on all my fingers and toes. No woman has ever had to pretend with me, I promise you that.”
Muttering something to herself, Andrea rests her forehead against one palm. Liam stalks across the stage with such a hard, fierce look stamped across his face, I’m sure he’s about to drag Seth off by the scruff of his neck to have a stern word with him.
“What is your name?” Liam demands of John. “Your full name.”
“I’ve never heard of you before. Pack up your things. You’re finished here.”
“I said pack up your things. Your services are no longer required.”
Andrea scurries over. “Liam, I’ve already paid him, and I’m sure-”
“I’ll pay for another photographer,” Liam says firmly, and with an air of finality. “I don’t want my work represented by someone like this.”
Seth starts to slow clap. I hop up and run away before the tears welling up in my eyes can spill over. Seth catches up to me right outside my dressing room. “Liam sent him packing like a little boy.”
“Why did you have to do that?”
“You embarrassed me.”
“Why are you embarrassed? He’s the one who should be ashamed.”
I don’t have a good answer for that. “Will you leave me alone, Seth? I just want to be alone right now.”
Seth sighs loudly. “Are you mad at me?”
“I’m not mad. I just want to be alone.”
As soon as my dressing room door closes behind me, I start to bawl. I thought I had mentally prepared myself for seeing John again, but obviously I was wrong.
I curl up on my couch into a tight ball with my knees tucked up under my chin, making myself as small as possible. I grab my blanket off the back of the couch and run my palms over the different textured squares. When I’m in the privacy of my home, I like to do this in bed, beneath all my other blankets. The heat is almost unbearable, but I relish that weight pressing down on me. A handful of times I sandwiched myself between the mattress and boxspring, and enjoyed that even better, but it’s too bizarre of a habit to let myself get into.
There is a knock on the door. “I’m really okay, Seth. I promise.” The door whispers open behind me. Why I thought Seth might listen this once, is beyond me. He never does. “I told you I’m not mad.”
He comes down on his knees behind me and brushes a tendril of hair behind my ear.
“I don’t know
“Why didn’t you speak to me about this, Penny?”
I freeze at the sound of Liam’s voice. “What are you doing in here?”
“I wanted to check on you.”
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” I swipe at my face, and suck in a large breath. “Sorry. I should’ve spoke with Seth beforehand. He’s a little dramatic at times.”
“He’s right. You shouldn’t have to deal with that.” Liam’s fingers move through my hair. The sensation is so wildly soothing I could melt. I want to beg him to brush my hair, and curl up behind me. What I wouldn’t give to feel his chin pressed against the side of my neck while he molds his chest to my back.
Stop it right now. Stop being ridiculous, Penny.
He’s Liam Thibault, and I’m nobody. He’ll be gone before long. Gone from this city, and gone from my life. He’s only here to check on Penelope Abbott, the dancer.
I’ve watched dancers throw hissy fits and behave like spoiled children, most recently Seth. And I have never once had a wish to be seen as that, but what must Liam think right now?
I have top billing for Unravel. If I actually do unravel before opening night, he’s going to be screwed, and we both know it. Carrie is a competent ballet dancer, but she has had even more difficulty with the unusual choreography in this show than me.
Of course I know there’s no chance of me unraveling, but Liam doesn’t. He doesn’t know me at all.
I suck in one more deep breath, and suck the rest of my tears in tight too. I can let them out later if need be. “I’m really okay,” I assure him, stretching back out, and sitting up on the edge of the couch. “My sister has lots of artsy type friends. I’m sure she knows a photographer or two.”
“I already have someone in mind. It’s someone I trust.” He is still kneeled down in front of me, leaned back on his heels. His hands rest lightly on the tops of my knees.
There is a faint smattering of dark hair along the backs of his hands and his forearms, and I imagine the texture would feel wonderful beneath my palms. I have to keep my hands balled into fists at my sides to overcome my urge to find out for sure. “I’m sorry, Liam. I’m not usually like this.”
He tips my chin up so I’m forced to look at him. “It’s really okay. I actually have someone I prefer to work with, but Andrea said she had it handled.” Shrugging his shoulders, he gives me a half smile. “It doesn’t matter. You won’t have to worry about him again.”
I nod slightly. He has such unusually beautiful eyes that take on different shades of green, gold and brown. It’s too easy to get lost in them, and Liam’s lips seem obscenely close to mine. What would I do if he kissed me right now? Close my eyes and sigh blissfully against his mouth probably.
I’m reading this all wrong, and even if I’m not, no good can come of it. As politely as possible, I shuck off his hands and stand up.
Liam is still kneeling in front of me, staring up at me now. This should be the point he stands too, but he doesn’t. His posture is supplicating and pleading. So are his eyes. One of us should at least look away, but I can’t muster the willpower.
My fingers itch to slide through his hair. I want to rip off this tutu, climb on his shoulders, and wrap my legs around his neck. I’m wet enough I bet he could taste me through the thin fabric of my leotard.
Oh, god. Seriously, what has gotten into me? I must be losing my mind. What I told Seth before was true. In the past, I have just tolerated sex. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it at all, but only to a point. It usually leaves me frustrated and disappointed, so these thoughts are not only wildly inappropriate, but pointless.
I glide away from Liam, and go to snatch up a tissue from my vanity. A quick peek in my mirror confirms what I feared. My face and chest are stained pink with heat. I hate how easily I blush. It gives away so much. Hopefully he thinks it’s only from crying. “Thank you for checking on me, but I’m really okay now. I’m fine.”
He rises to his feet, and tugs at the hem of his sweater. “I’m going to go make a few calls, and maybe we’ll try again later this week. How does that sound?”
“G-Great. That sounds wonderful. Thank you. Thank you, Liam.”
As soon as the door closes behind him, I let out a long, audible breath.
On thursday afternoon Seth shows up right on time, and we are introduced to the photographer Cate, with a C. She’s sure to point that out for some reason. Cate is maybe a few years younger than Liam. Her short, chocolate curls fall around her face is this tousled, just climbed out of bed way. She is so timelessly beautiful I suspect she may have worked on the other side of the camera in the past.
Cate is nothing but friendly and warm to Seth and I. To Liam she is completely comfortable and familiar in a casual way that makes me think they know each other well. Later when I spot them walking out, they are talking quietly. His hand rests on the small of her back, and she pauses to let her head fall against his shoulder as a loud, throaty laugh pours out of her. I wonder what he said that was so funny? What I really wonder is, why such a vicious pang of jealousy tears through my stomach at the sight of them together.
“Huh,” Seth murmurs, and hooks his chin over my shoulder from behind. There is a knowingness in that Huh that means he’s seeing it too. “We should do something wicked and fun tonight,” he suggests.
“When have I ever been up for something wicked? Plus I have a few orders to finish up tonight.”
“Penny, we have two whole days off.”
“I’m not really feeling up to going out tonight.”
“Perfect. We’ll go tomorrow. I have a friend who is in a band, a truly terrible band. We’ll go and make fun of them together.”
“Why would you want to make fun of your friend?”
“In a joking way, you know? It’s only in jest.”
“Only to the people I love. Come, Penny. You need more fun in your life.”
“I can’t. Paige has this art show thing. I need to at least go make an appearance. You could come with me?”
Seth grimaces. “Will they be serving alcohol?”
“At a college art show? Doubtful.”
“Why didn’t you bring Gabin along?” I ask over dinner.
Cate gives a tired sigh. “Well, he has school. Not that it would matter if he missed a few days. He doesn’t go half the time anyways.”
My mouth falls open. “Gabin?”
“You don’t know what it’s been like. He’s gotten so-” Cate pauses to shake her head. “He thinks he knows everything. I can’t tell him a thing. Neither can Richard. It’s like a switch flipped right before his last birthday. Gabin is not the sweet little boy you remember, Liam.”
“He wasn’t exactly a little boy the last time I saw him.”
“I bet it’s been six months.” There is a hint of accusation in her voice.
I sigh quietly. “I know.”
Cate waves her hand through the air. “Your nephew has turned into quite the asshole. You wouldn’t know what to make of him nowadays.”
“Remi was a bit too at that age.”
Cate smiles. “So the stories go.”
A little over a decade since my brother’s passing, and speaking his name out loud doesn’t sting quite as bad as it once did. Cate grieved so profoundly and for so long after his untimely death, I wasn’t sure if she’d ever recover, but she eventually moved on and remarried four years ago.
“How is Richard?”
“Good. Busy with work, but good. His daughter is such a sweet angel. Bobby is doing much better. His behaviors have improved enough they’re talking about moving him to a traditional school. If it wasn’t for them, I’d say we could get out of the city, get Gabin away from all those little devils he’s taken up with.”
“Little devils,” I mutter under my breath with a laugh.
“I don’t dance anymore.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m just taking some time to explore my options.”
Lifting her eyebrows, she grimaces. “How in the world did you land in that shithole?”
I give her a sharp look.
Cate holds her hands up. “I mean, the people are great, and the theater itself… the architecture. You don’t see places like that anymore, but the street looks post-apocalyptic.”
I can’t help but laugh. “That’s a pretty apt description.”
“So… what are you doing? Like, what is the plan? Just to skip from city to city for the rest of your life?”
“Is that such an awful thing?” I ask. Judging by the look on Cate’s face, it’s more sad than awful. “I may be heading back towards Quebec after the new year, but it would be for more of a permanent position. I’m still deciding.”
“So, what’s the deciding factor? The pretty, blonde girl I took pictures of today?”
“No,” I say firmly. “What in the world gave you that idea? And you said it yourself. She’s a girl.”
“She’s not that young, is she?”
“Young enough, and she seems to hate me half the time for some reason.”
“I wasn’t getting that vibe from her, but I think she may hate me. Who does she think I am?”
“A photographer? I didn’t feel the need to expound on it much. It’s not like we’re friends, and she doesn’t hate you, but Penny can be a little… chilly.”
Cate shrugs and gives me a knowing smirk. “If you say so.”
“I do say so, and I don’t get involved with dancers, or other people I work with closely.”
“Then who does that leave? Because you don’t know anyone else.”
“I know people.”
Cate shakes her head at me.
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