Disclaimer: The Twilight characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. I'm just borrowing them from time to time so I can play. The title is from the musical Chorus Line. Happy reading, and please don't be shy and review!
At the Ballet
"Everything is beautiful at the ballet,
every prince has got to have his swan…" ~ from Chorus Line
"This is ridiculous," I declared for what felt like the hundredth time. I tried to open my eyes and there was Alice, mere inches from my face, still plucking my eyebrows. I winced when she accidentally (or very deliberately) pulled too hard. I bit back a squeak, but couldn't help questioning her actions. "Is it really necessary?"
"Bella," her voice was strict and yet patient, like one would address a disobedient child. There was this glint in her golden eyes, though, so I knew she was far more amused than she had let on. "Why don't you close your eyes, sit still and relax? You don't want me to mess up your eyebrows, now, do you?"
"No," I muttered, and did as I was told. As soon as I let my eyelids droop, the plucking resumed. Soon I became used to the rhythmic movement until the tiny pinches didn't bother me anymore. "It would be nice to know where we're going, at least."
I wasn't really addressing her, but apparently, she felt obliged to reply anyway. "I promised I wouldn't say anything."
"Because Edward knows I'll throw a fit as soon as I know?"
"No, because Edward wants to surprise you and he'll probably tell you on your way there."
"On our way where?"
"I can tell you you're going to love it."
"Well, that's comforting," I dryly pointed out, but didn't say anything further. Slowly, gradually, the plucking became less frequent, and then stopped altogether. I didn't dare hope it meant what I had hoped it meant.
"Eyebrows are all done," Alice announced after a few moments. I opened my eyes, squinting against the bathroom lights. "I won't even bother to ask you if you like it. Knowing you, you probably can't even tell the difference," she said, waving the tweezers as though it was a wand. "And now, let's get you dressed!"
I sighed, but got up and followed her back into her bedroom. I couldn't help but be reminded of a different time, about two months before, where I had unwillingly submitted myself to a similar scheme. At least now I had use of both my legs, in case she would become unbearable and I would have no choice but flee.
As Alice disappeared into her walk-in closet, I sat on her and Jasper's bed, dangling my feet over the edges. I idly wondered what time it was and glanced out of the window, where several sunbeams managed to penetrate the thick layer of clouds that hung low in the sky. Probably late afternoon. "Alice, I should probably call Charlie soon," I called in her direction. "He'll be worried."
"Oh, Charlie knows you're with me, silly. I already talked to him, it's all arranged."
It was the word "arranged" that made me instantly suspicious. "What do you mean?"
"Well," she said, skipping back into the room with dozen of colorful items in her arms. "You've got quite a drive ahead of you today, so we thought it would be best to tell Charlie you're spending the night here."
For a moment, the blood drained from my face, only to settle back in my cheeks with double force. "You told Charlie…"
"Ah, don't be such a prude. I told him you'll be keeping me company since everyone else is going camping. This way, when you return, you could crash here for a few hours before you head home from our fake sleepover!"
"So… this place we're going to is far away," I half said, half asked, forgetting for a moment what she had just told me about Charlie.
"Yes, it is, but that's all the information you're getting from me!" At that, she dropped everything on the bed and leaped after it with impossible speed. "Now be quiet for a moment and let me think."
About half an hour later, she was finally satisfied with her choice. She got me into a satin top in pearly pink, tucked into black slacks. The top matched the nail polish I had to remind myself not to smudge. She kept my hair down, but did something to it that made it cascade down my back, each strand ending with a perfect ringlet. Once she made sure my nail polish had fully dried, she handed me a pair of black flats with a sulk.
"Just so you know, the only reason you got away with wearing flats is because I'm working under orders from Carlisle, who made me promise not to put any unnecessary strain on your leg yet."
I mentally thanked Carlisle and snatched the shoes before she could change her mind. I slipped into them carefully. I had been cast-free for almost two weeks, but it was still a little strange and disorienting to be standing on two feet. Getting my balance back was a constant struggle, and I was glad Carlisle had made sure I wouldn't have to worry about it tonight, wherever we were headed.
"And I think you're about done," she announced and reached for my hand. Putting my hand in hers, I let her lead me towards the full length mirror in the walk-in closet. "What do you think?" she beamed at my reflection.
And I had to admit. I liked it. The outfit she chose wasn't overly girly, quite a difference from previous times she had attempted to dress me up. This ensemble was more me somehow, and as always, she got it perfectly. Of course, I couldn't help but wonder how come I managed to get away without wearing a dress. I suspected that like the flats, it had something to do with Carlisle's orders, so I kept quiet, knowing she wouldn't want to delve any further into the issue of her prohibition. Alice wasn't used to not getting her way. "This is great, Alice. Honestly."
"I knew you would love it!" she squealed and clapped her hands. "I'm such a genius!" Then she glanced at her watch, hung from a golden chain around her neck. She started. "Oh my, is that the time? Go on, honey," she said, nudging me gently in the direction of the door. She stuck a clutch purse into my hands and flashed a radiant smile at me. "Don't keep my brother waiting."
One's enthusiasm could never compete with Alice's, but despite my initial reluctance, at that point I was pretty anxious to find Edward and hit the road. He wasn't in his room, though, so I headed downstairs. It had been a while since I was able to tackle so many stairs, though, and by the time I reached the top of the stairs of the bottom floor, I was panting rather heavily. If I had the slightest chance of surprising him, it was all gone now; I knew he could probably hear me when I was still trudging down the stairs of the second landing.
Sure enough, he was waiting for me at the bottom of the staircase, looking breathtakingly handsome in a tux that was probably custom made. Just the sight of him made me halt halfway down the stairs. The clothes Alice had put me in were by no means cheap or ugly, but I still found myself looking down at my outfit with dismay. I looked so underdressed in comparison. I took the rest of the stairs slowly, partly with exhaustion, partly with hesitation. He smiled at me and reached for my hand. I placed my hand in his and watched, transfixed, as he slowly brought it closer to his lips.
"You look stunning."
It was only three words, but they made my head spin. "You, too," I whispered, blushing.
"Are you ready to go?"
Still somewhat dizzy, I merely nodded. A soft laughter escaped him; he was obviously aware of the affect he had on me. He laced our fingers together before he lowered our joined hands and pulled me closer against him as I joined him on the landing. Then he kissed the top of my head and vanished. I had barely managed to blink before he reappeared, carrying a charcoal-colored woolen coat against his arm. "So are you going to tell me where we're going?" I asked him.
He simply flashed a crooked smile at me and placed the coat on my shoulders. "We're going to Seattle."
For a moment, I couldn't do much but stare at him. And then I decided he was joking. He had to be joking. "It's four hours away," I stated the obvious.
That soft laugh again. It turned my knees into jelly. "It depends on who is driving, really."
Apparently, that was all the information he was willing to reveal. That's alright, though, I thought as I followed him outside and into the waiting car. I would have enough time for interrogations on the road.
I should have known better. Somehow he had managed to intercept all my attempted questioning, asking me about school which would begin shortly, about teachers he thought we would have, about what people had been up to during the summer. About an hour into the drive, it was clear he wasn't going to give me any hints as for our destination. "I can't believe Charlie bought Alice's sleepover story," I told him, running out of ways to expose our secret destination.
"She can be quite persuasive, as I'm sure you know."
"Oh, do I," I laughed humorlessly. "I still think it's unnecessary."
"Well, I didn't think Charlie would appreciate me bringing you home at about three in the morning. I didn't want to give him more reasons to be upset with me." The tiniest of frowns creased his forehead, but before I could utter a protest, it was gone.
He turned his attention from the road to me without slowing down. Despite the countless of times he had done it while we were riding together, it had never ceased to unnerve me. "It does mean you will have to sleep in the car until we get home. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course I don't mind." The leather seats of the Volvo were as comfortable as the sofa in his bedroom. And knowing him, he probably made sure to stash a blanket in the backseat just for this purpose.
And then something else occurred to me. "If Charlie thinks I'll be at your house with Alice, we could just spend the night in Seattle."
He looked at me as though it wasn't the most obvious of options. "What, you and I? Alone?"
"Unless we're meeting up with someone in the city," I said, less sure now. Maybe we were?
He sighed as though he could detect the confusion on my face. The sound was a cross between exasperation and amusement. "Did you really think I would dare tainting your reputation by getting us into a hotel room in the dead of night, unchaperoned?"
I couldn't help but laugh at his expression. He seemed truly outraged at the very suggestion. "Well, it is the twenty first century," I pointed out.
"No matter what century it is, it isn't happening." His scowl made room for contemplation, and soon a sly smile curled on his perfect lips. "But since you're seemingly so keen on dates today, why don't we talk about your birthday?"
Clearly, it was my turn to sulk. "What about my birthday?"
"Well, for one thing, it's exactly a month away." There was a smile in his voice. "Just because Alice doesn't bother you about it doesn't mean she doesn't remember. In fact, she was the one who pointed it out to me this morning."
All this talk about my imminent birthday was making me nauseated by the second. "Does all the birthday talk have a point?"
"Oh, but I believe I have made my point."
"And I believe I have made mine. It's just a date on the calendar. No gifts, no greetings, no fanfare. Please."
"I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about."
"This is just it; I'm trying to avoid the fuss!"
"You know Alice would never let you get away with it."
"I know," I sighed. There was no point denying it, really. I was sure she was already making plans. And whatever those plans were, I was already dreading them. "Like you said, it's a month away. I'm allowed not to think about it for the time being. Alice can do what she likes, and she probably will, but you have to promise me – "
"No fanfare. Got it."
"Good," I muttered, although I didn't like how smug he sounded. "Are you going to tell me what's in Seattle or will you keep me guessing until we get there?"
Without slowing down or pulling over, he reached behind my seat to take something from underneath it. A moment later he handed it to me with a hint of a smile on his perfect lips.
The Pacific Northwest Ballet presents: Beauty and the Beast, the leaflet read. Underneath the title in bright, cursive letters, there was a photo of a couple, the leading dancers dressed in costumes I faintly remembered from the Disney version of the fairytale. I looked up at him in disbelief. "You're taking me to the ballet?"
"I've wanted to do this for a while, ever since I discovered you took lessons as a child," he said somewhat sheepishly. If he were human, he would have blushed at his confession. "Tonight is their opening night."
For a moment, I was speechless. I looked at the leaflet in my lap again, and then up at him. Despite my earlier resentment, I had to admit it was all kinds of perfect. "I've never been to the ballet before."
Now driving one-handed, he reached down and wrapped his fingers around mine. "You're going to love it."
Night had fallen by the time we beat the traffic and drove into the city. I had visited Seattle numerous times, but I had never been there after dark before. Now I found myself all but glued to the window, mesmerized by the sight of the city, its lights as gleaming as a jewel. There was a pang of something deep inside me. The small town girl needed a moment before she realized it was homesickness; to Phoenix, to the hustle and bustle, to the urban sights and sounds after sundown. I drank it all in now, realizing just at that moment how much I had truly missed it.
Soon we were approaching what seemed like the theatre the performance would take place at. I observed the leaflet again to catch its name. With its unique architecture, the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall was standing out, the most precious jewel of them all. I gulped. It looked massive. Homesickness was quickly replaced by a tinge of something I didn't recognize, a strange mix of excitement and anxiety.
But on our way inside, the thrill began to evaporate as I took in my surroundings. The scents of various perfumes hung heavily in the air, like a mist. The babble of dozens of people speaking simultaneously was making me dizzy. The lobby was filled with diamonds and pearls and haute couture. For once, I wished Alice had been more persistent about putting me in a dress. Every person who passed us was dressed to utter perfection. Edward blended in perfectly, of course. If I hadn't watched him drive all the way here, I would never have believed he had just spent over three hours behind the wheel. There was not so much as a wrinkle on his tux. Once again, I eyed my own outfit with apprehension.
Before I could speak out, his hand wrapped around mine, his other slipping to the small of my back, guiding me forward. "You look beautiful," he murmured into my ear, then laughed softly as I shivered. "Come on. Let's find our seats."
I found myself clinging to him as we made our way through the crowd, not wanting to lose him amongst the masses of unfamiliar faces. Most of the ushers knew him by name and wished us a pleasant evening as they checked the tickets he presented to them and directed us to our seats. I pretended to see a glimmer in their eyes as they swept over me.
"Do you come here often?" I asked him as I walked passed him into our box. It was the first in the row of three, the closest to the stage and perfectly situated across from it. There were similar boxes on the opposite side of the theatre.
"I accompany Carlisle and Esme from time to time," he replied. "This way," he said then, guiding me towards the first out of three pairs of seats. Best seats in the house, most likely.
I sat down somewhat hesitantly, then leaned forward against the railing. The hall, filling up slowly, stretched beneath me. Sitting there, elevated above the enormous space of the theatre, was quite unnerving, but the sight was magnificent. "This is incredible." I turned to face him and felt my face light up at the sight of my favorite crooked grin. "Thank you."
Wordlessly, he reached for my arm and placed a kiss to the back of my hand. I was so lost in the moment, in the depth of his gaze, that when different voices pierced the silence between us, I literally started. We broke apart as an elderly couple nodded politely in acknowledgement and took the seats behind us. I smirked inwardly. I had almost expected Edward to purchase every seat in the box all to give us privacy.
"What's so funny?"
"This. You. I can't believe you would do something like that for me," I laughed a little timidly because something else occurred to me then. "It's like that scene from Pretty Woman." He smiled as though he knew exactly which scene I meant.
Shortly afterwards, the lights flickered, then dimmed, and the orchestra launched into the first notes of the Prologue. I turned my full attention to the stage, barely aware of Edward's presence by my side, as darkness wrapped itself around the theatre and the curtain slowly rose.
The performance itself was mesmerizing. We were sitting high enough not to miss a single thing that had been happening onstage, but about ten minutes in, I found it impossible. I wanted to keep my eyes on dozens of places at the same time; at the leading dancer, moving with exquisite grace that could easily compete with that of Alice or of Esme. At the ensemble, the dancers who functioned as live setting, standing in the background on their toes. I eyed them with awe. I wouldn't last eight seconds, just standing there, unmoving.
I was so invested in everything that had been going on that when the orchestra played a final note and the lights suddenly switched on, I uttered a sound of protest. I turned to face Edward, who was watching me with the cutest grin on his lips. I had to blink a few times until his face swam into full focus.
"It's only the intermission," he told me. "There are two more acts to go." Then he leaned closer. "I don't need to read your mind to know what you think so far."
I nodded sheepishly, knowing it was written all over my face, and probably apparent by my protest a moment ago. "This is amazing. I love it."
Still enchanted by what I had seen so far, I leaned over to place a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," I whispered. I could feel the constant burning on my face. It wasn't something I would normally do with so many people around.
"Early happy birthday." There was laughter in his eyes, as though he knew he would get away with saying something of the sort here. Then he smirked. "We have an audience," he informed me in a whisper, his eyes flying briefly towards the elderly couple behind us. They weren't looking at us, but I knew it wasn't the thing that got his attention.
"What are they thinking?"
"That we're a lovely couple. That it's refreshing to see people so young at a place like this." But there was this shadow to his gaze now, and before I could question it, the lights flickered on and off, and the first act was about to begin.
It was as good as the Prologue, but the second and final act was the best one of all. I rarely cry while watching films, or while reading, but I couldn't mistake the moisture around my eyes when Belle returned to the castle to find the beast laying on the ground, unconscious. I thought it was incredible, the way emotions didn't always have to be conveyed through words. Her desperation was there in her every move. Even though her motions were broken and erratic, she managed to remain graceful somehow. And still, one easily got the impression that once she was about to lose her soul mate, and that her life was slowly falling apart as a result.
The sudden sensation of Edward's hand against my knee made me gasp in surprise. I tore my eyes away from the stage. He handed me a tissue without commenting on the tears he must have seen on my face. I took it from him, trying to smile, but quickly turned my attention back to the stage, not wanting to miss anything as the final scene slowly unfolded.
"Are you alright?" He asked me on the way home. We had barely spoken since we left the theatre, and now, an hour or so into our drive, I was sure I'd fallen asleep until I heard his question. And even though I was suddenly feeling drained, I knew exactly what he was really asking, what he wanted to know.
"Yeah... I got a bit emotional there, that's all."
"I noticed," he said, but not in a way that meant to offend me. He said nothing else, but I knew he was expecting to hear more.
"I think it's just never occurred to me how much like Beauty and the Beast my own life has become," I told him without even be embarrassed about it. Only as I said the words, I knew how true they were, and my mild emotional outburst at the theatre suddenly made sense. It wasn't just the performance that moved me to tears. It was the way the story the dancers had told reflected my own. I felt for Belle because I understood her pain of losing a loved one. For a short time, I was forced to live with it, and it was agony. I knew exactly what Belle was feeling with the mere possibility of losing her beloved.
I was so engaged in this thought that when he touched my hand, I gasp. He smiled briefly in apology before the smile was gone. "Yes," he murmured, and the contemplative tone meant I should probably be on my guard against his next words. "Our lives are quite like Beauty and the Beast, aren't they?"
It was easy to tell which aspect of the story had the most impact on him. "He was a prince," I reminded him.
"He was arrogant and was punished for it."
"Carlisle didn't punish you. He saved you."
"You saved me." His gaze was too intense to try and argue against him. "And how did I repay you? By taking you away from your father, just like in the story."
He groaned softly, and I regretted bringing up the entire comparison. Clearly he didn't think of this parallel himself and, knowing him, now he wouldn't stop thinking about it and torment himself in the process of doing so.
"Stop." It was just one word, spoken as soft as a whisper, but it worked, sort of. I saw him smile to himself as he turned his attention back to the road ahead. I was sort of relieved he didn't want to delve deeper into this issue. I didn't want tonight to be spoiled with self pity.
"What..." He started again after a while, then stopped. He seemed reluctant to ask whatever was on his mind, but eventually he relented. "Where do you think you will be in exactly a year from now?"
I almost smiled. It wasn't like him to make such enquiries. If the tables were turned, he would have rolled his eyes at me and teased me for sounding so sentimental. Nonetheless, it wasn't so difficult to come up with a reply. "Hopefully, a year from now, I'll be by your side, wherever that might be, as happy as I am right now."
"Me too," he whispered. "That's all I want."
"Then who says we can't have it?"
"Happily Ever Afters don't often occur for my kind," he replied somberly.
"Every rule has its exceptions. I know we can do this. And I know that you know it too."
"Oh, do you, now?"
I let my face wear a bashful expression. "I might have failed to mention it, but I am in fact able to real minds."
We shared a smile for a brief moment, and I knew I had him. Or almost did. Hmm. It seemed further persuasion was in order. "Pull over," I ordered him softly.
He gave me a weird look, then let out a short, strained laughter. "Unbelievable. You really can read minds, as it appears."
I was still laughing as he got off the highway and killed the engine at the side of the road. The spot was dark and quiet, with only a few cars passing through every now and then. Well, that will do, I thought as I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed onto his lap. I was sort of bracing myself for a protest or a rejection, neither of which had come as our lips collided against one another in a much needed kiss.
"There," I breathed as we slowly drew apart. "Now you're a prince."
"A true love's kiss," he murmured, tucking a lock of my hair behind my ear.
I kept my eyes locked on his, making sure he would see the truth in my next words. "I've never been as happy as I am right now. This is not going to change as long as you're around."
"Well, as it appears, I'm not going anywhere tonight," he said with laughter still in his eyes before he leaned over to rub his nose against mine. It was a relief to witness his smile. It was miles better than that hateful, solemn expression. "So why don't you try to sleep? We've got a long way ahead."
I meant to protest. I didn't want to lose even a second of being alone with him on sleeping. But as soon as he spoke I realized I was kind of tired. It had been a long day and I could feel the adrenaline slowly draining out of me. "I probably should," I consented, burying my face in his chest to hide a yawn. Then, reluctantly, I slipped back into my seat, took my shoes off, and tucked my feet beneath me as I curled into a more comfortable position.
He reached behind my seat again. I couldn't help but smile at myself when he produced a neatly folded blanket from back there, just as I had predicted. It was impossible to make out its color in the darkness, but it felt nice and plush as he wrapped it around me. "I know it isn't much, but try to get some sleep, alright? We'll be home in no time."
"'Kay," I murmured, my eyelids drooping almost on their own accord. Before they closed all the way, I still got a glimpse of his smiling face as he hovered close. A moment later, I felt soft coolness against my forehead. A goodnight kiss. I felt my lips curl in a smile I couldn't control, already drifting.
The car's gentle movements lulled me to sleep. Every now and then, a light flickered on the highway, but I had barely noticed it. Then I heard his voice, not louder than a murmur, as he hummed a waltz I faintly remembered from the second act of the ballet. As the road stretched ahead of us, I slipped deeper into sleep. Edward's humming wrapped around me, as comforting as the blanket he had tucked around my shoulders. And in my dream, two dancers, who looked remarkably like us, danced on.
Disclaimer of sorts: I had never been to the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, nor have I ever seen the Pacific Northwest Ballet in action. All I know about these two comes from Mr. Google. A ballet version of Beauty and the Beast does exist, although I'm not sure the PNB has ever performed one, so that part of the story is purely fictional. Head down to the review button if you enjoyed this piece – it would make me super happy!