Her hands still for a moment, then she turns to me, pulls her knees to her chest and wraps her arms around her legs. “I’m getting better. It’s been a rough few months.”
I nod and frown. “I miss her too. Did she ever tell you that I still came to see her over the years whenever I was in town?”
“No.” She shakes her head sadly. “She knew that talking about you hurt me, so she never brought it up.”
I blink and watch her beautiful face. “I saw her at least once a year. I’d make repairs on the house and help her out in any way I could.”
“Thank you for that,” she whispers. “Mark, I’m sorry for the way it ended—”
“Stop.” I take her hand in mine and kiss her knuckles. “There’s nothing to apologize for, M. It was a long time ago.”
She nods and bites her lip but then shakes her head and presses on. “No, I need to say this. It’s important to me.” She squares her shoulders and clears her throat and I just lean back on my hands and listen. “I know it’s been a long time, but we never talked after that day, M. I didn’t want to break it off. I knew that that’s what I was doing, but it killed me. I’d been in dance class one day, and I wasn’t concentrating, and the teacher called me out on it. She knew I was daydreaming, and explained that I needed to get my head in the game.” She frowns and shifts like she can’t get comfortable, then shrugs. “I just knew that we were so young, and that if dance was what I wanted, I had to go for it.”
“I get it, Mer.” I push a piece of hair that’s fallen out of her bun behind her ear. “We were young. Chances are we would have broken up eventually. It hurt like crazy at the time, but hindsight is 20/20, right?”
She nods and releases her legs, crossing them in front of her.
“Tell me about New York,” I say unexpectedly, surprising us both, but I realize, I want to know everything about our time apart. Every detail. “Start at the beginning and tell me everything.”
“Really? You want to know?”
“Absolutely.” I let her hand go and take a sip of my water as I watch her gather her thoughts.
“I didn’t want to get on that plane,” she begins softly, her eyes off in the distance, watching the lights of the boats on the water. I can’t look away from her. Fuck, I’m still pulled to her in a way I’ve never been able to explain. It was there when I was seventeen damn years old, and it’s just as strong now. “It was torture, knowing I was leaving you. The first week was scary and so much harder than I ever thought it would be.”
She swallows and glances at me, then back at the boats, like she’s nervous, so I scoot next to her and link her fingers with mine.
“I found an apartment and started dancing right away. From day one, it was twelve to fourteen hour days, dancing pretty much nonstop. I met Jax that first week too.” She smiles as she thinks back on that time. “He was a couple years older, but also new to the area, so we bonded. He has quite the story to tell.” She frowns suddenly and then turns those baby blues up to mine. “Maybe someday he’ll tell you about it. Anyway, we worked pretty much all the time. Classes went late into the evening, so sometimes we’d just sleep there at the studio and then get up in the morning and start all over again.”
Holy shit. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I had no idea it was all-encompassing. Is this what she tried to tell me that day on her porch?
“I thought my body was conditioned for it, but I hurt everywhere for a year solid. My feet, my joints, my mind. I was constantly exhausted. The auditions were nerve-wracking. I ended up in some small parts in shows. I did the Grammys and Tonys and began to make a name for myself in the community.” She smiles proudly and I squeeze her hand.
“I’m so proud of you, M.”
“Thank you. It was a lot of work. Physical and mental. So much fucking competition. And oh my God, the things girls will do for parts! They’ll sleep with anyone!”
I immediately tense up and she laughs. “No, M, not me. But I admit, as I got older and the younger ones would come along, sniffing around a director or producer, my back immediately came up and I was like, ‘Oh no you don’t. You’re not going to sleep your way into my part.’”
“How did you end up touring?” I ask.
“You knew about that?”
“I paid attention,” I reply.
“Jax. He’s an awesome choreographer. The best there is. He choreographed shows for Justin, Beyonce and Pink. And then one day, Starla called.”
She smiles, lost in thought. Starla is a megastar, and I know that Mer toured with her for quite some time.
“Starla wanted Jax to choreograph her Belladonna tour, and he insisted that she hire us both, since we usually work together, especially when it comes to couples choreography, and she agreed. We had that gig for about four years.” She grins and takes a sip of water. “We traveled the world, M. I didn’t see much of it, because we worked so much, but it was fun to perform in front of all of those people every night. And Starla is just spectacular. What a performer. She works just as hard, if not harder than the rest of us.”
“You became friends.”
“We did.” She nods and shivers. I check my watch and realize that we’ve already been here for a couple hours. I grab a blanket for each of us, wrap one around Mer and then one around myself and sit, ready to listen to more. “And then Mom got sick.” Her voice turns softer and more distant, and she’s still watching the water like she’s watching it all play out like a movie. “I knew I had to come home. At first she didn’t want me to. She insisted that she was okay, and honestly if she’d still had Dad or Tiff here, I probably wouldn’t have come home when I did, but she had no one, M.”
I nod and rub her back soothingly, letting her talk.
“I was close to retirement age anyway.”
“You were twenty-seven.” My voice sounds exasperated to my own ears.
“Most dancers peak at twenty-five.” She shrugs, as if it is what it is. “Touring life gets old after a while, and Mom needed me.”
“Why did Jax come with you?”
“He’s older than me, and we’d been together since week one.” She bites her lip and watches me quietly for a moment. “Jax is the closest thing I’ve had to a sibling since Tiff died, M. We’d talked about opening a studio for a long time, and it felt like this was the time. And I’m glad we did. The studio is doing really well.”