ONE TWO THREE is coming out on June 26th…Yesterday, I received my copy edits from the wonderful Danielle and Lorrie from Double Vision Editorial. It’s surreal and crazy and insane and amazing and I cannot wait for my little story to find its way onto the world. As soon as I’m done with copy editing, it will go off to formatting and then the first e-ARCs and ARCs will find their first readers.
Today, I’m sharing an exclusive preview: the entire first chapter of ONE TWO THREE…There might still be a few typos, they will be corrected for the final version.
Chopin’s music is the soundtrack of my life.
Papa played his most heart-wrenching waltzes, Mama used his nocturnes as lullabies when I was little, and my legs itched to form an arabesque whenever I heard Polonaises op. 40. Chopin used to be my escape, a way to dream about the future, about everything I wanted—from finally not being scared of falling in love to dancing the role of Cinderella one day at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.
But that was before.
The somber melody of Chopin’s Prelude op. 28 oppresses me. That piece is also called “Suffocation.” How fitting. Mama listens to it on repeat. She’s slumped at the living room table in the far corner. Only one of the lights is working and the darkness almost settles around her as she pours herself one shot of vodka after the other.
“Mama, you need to go to sleep,” I tell her for the fifth time. She’s downing the bottle as if there’s no tomorrow, and maybe that’s what she’s hoping for. Her head wobbles from one side to another. She’s already far gone. I missed my doctor’s appointment today because she was too drunk to drive me. I had to lie for her again. Dr. Gibson bought it, and we rescheduled for two weeks. He agreed that as long as I followed his advice (wearing my knee brace, doing my strength exercises, and no jumps) I could volunteer at the community center to help little kids learn to dance. He even gave my name to the volunteer coordinator there. She was looking for a college student, but I convinced her during the interview that even though I was only seventeen, she should still give me a chance. If I do well with the kids this Saturday, I’ll get to help out every weekend for a few hours.
Mama stands up, swaying around with the bottle in her hand.
“I need you out of my face,” she slurs and pushes me away. I wouldn’t have stumbled before. After all, balance is everything for a ballerina, but my knee brace makes my movements awkward. I stumble into the bookshelves holding my babushka’s favorite novels from Tolstoy and Shakespeare: she loved Anna Karenina and Romeo and Juliet. She always laughed about a pamphlet Tolstoy wrote that criticized Shakespeare, and she could talk for hours about literature. If my babushka were here, maybe she’d be able to get through to Mama. But at the same time, I’m relieved she didn’t see how her family crumbled to pieces after the accident.
“It was my fault!” Mama’s words cut through my heart, knowing I can’t seem to convince her otherwise. “It was my fault,” she whispers. “I killed him!” Her voice goes crescendo. “I don’t want to see you! Get out!”
My stomach clenches. No matter how many times she pushes me away, I still have the same reaction: I want to comfort her, to remind her she’s not responsible.
“You weren’t in the car.” I use my most soothing voice. “I was. You didn’t do anything.”
“I told you to get out!” Mama is in my face, but I don’t flinch. Even though her fury scares the crap out of me, she never hit me. Not once, despite being drunk more often than not, ever since the accident.
“You listen.” She points a wobbly finger at me, her usual striking features are contorted in a mask of despair: her mascara trails down her cheeks with her tears, her blue eyes, a bit clearer than Papa’s and mine, are all puffed up, and the mouth that can curve into a beautiful smile is a thin line. “I want you out. If only you didn’t ask him to drive you back.”
I didn’t want him to drive me back on that day, but he didn’t leave me a choice. I wanted to know why he was so angry. I wanted him to talk to me. But I had to be back at school. He understood how much it all meant to me, and he insisted I couldn’t miss my plane.
“If only—” She doesn’t finish her sentence, instead she downs another shot. “Just go!”
I clutch the necklace my parents gave me for my thirteenth birthday. The silver chain holds the pendant I had been eyeing for weeks: ballet shoes with pale pink diamond. Papa told me it would be my lucky charm. I was wearing it for my first callbacks at the School of Performing Arts. It was with me the day I received my first big role. But it didn’t protect us from the accident. Touching it calms and burns me at the same time, but I don’t have it in me to take it off.
“Mama,” I try again.
“I killed him!” Mama screams so loudly the entire neighborhood might hear her. There are only fifteen houses or so scattered in our little community, but they’ve been here forever. When we moved into my babushka’s house two weeks ago, they all welcomed us with open arms, giving us apple pies and casseroles. Mama put on her show: she thanked them all profusely but still downed half a bottle of vodka as soon as she closed the door.
This house used to be synonymous with summer fun and spending time with my best friend, Becca, with my parents at least pretending to get along so as not to worry my grandmother or their friends. But this is not the house I would choose to come back to after everything that has happened. My babushka passed away last January and left the house to my parents. I asked Mama why we couldn’t start fresh somewhere far away. She said tears don’t care where you are, that sadness follows you everywhere, and at least in the little town she grew up in and where we spent every summer, her friends could help her find a job. She’s starting as part-time secretary at Becca’s dad’s law firm tomorrow. Staying in our house in Maine was too expensive anyway. Another reason why moving to Everbird in New Jersey made sense according to her.
The pressure in my chest builds up, but crying won’t change a thing. There’s no way she’ll listen to me now, no matter how angry or sad I am.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. I grab my coat and my backpack and close the door, not bothering to hide my scar under makeup like I usually do. When the car crashed against the tree, pieces of the windows stuck in my skin and ripped part of my left cheek. The surgery left a red trail, starting in the middle of my cheek and spreading to my ear.
But I don’t care about my face right now, I need to get to a place that can quiet my thoughts, and stop the sadness from pouring into my veins like a never-ending torrent. The lake that’s less than a mile from our home has always been my special place during the summers. It’s where Becca taught me how to swim and where we named ourselves “Sirens for Life.” It’s where I always went to practice secretly after my curfew and where I have the best memories of my parents. Before Mama’s drinking got the best of her, before their fights, before the crash that took Papa and my dreams.
The shortcut to the lake from our home is a dirt road that isn’t well lit, but I know the way by heart. I hurry down the path, tuning my iPod to Chopin’s happier music. But I can’t drown out Mama’s voice. It resonates in my head. It’s my fault! I know she’s wrong because she’s not the one who killed him. I did. If only I didn’t get into an argument with him in the car. If only I had warned him about the truck. I bite back a sob and rip off my knee brace to walk even faster. At first, my knee is stiff, but at least I can extend my leg much better now.
Seeing the lake calms me down, soothes me. This place is always crowded in the summer, but on this crisp September night, there’s no one. The lights surrounding the area flicker, the tall trees leave interesting shadows on the ground, and a discarded pink umbrella stands next to the bench by the grilling area. I turn up the volume of my iPod even more, settle on the bench, and search through my backpack. My pointes show the wear and tear of the last years, and no matter how much I scrub, there’s one smudge that doesn’t want to go away.
Memories flash back when I slip them on: my father handing me a bouquet of lilies after each of my recitals, the crew from the School of Performing Arts sneaking out to get ice cream, the summers I spent on the raft at the lake with Becca and my babushka, the hours at the barre.
Dancing’s always been my escape from reality: from the fights my parents had more and more often, from my babushka passing away all alone at the hospital because no one told me she was sick, from my fears of letting anyone get really close.
Dancing’s always been my future.
Dancing’s always been who I am. So even if I can’t dance like I used to, even if I can’t put too much pressure on my knee, I’m convinced I’ll train my way back to the top, that I’ll show Dr. Gibson and the rest of them that they got it wrong, when they said it was very unlikely I would ever go back on stage. Juilliard postponed my audition and the director of the School of Performing Arts told he was holding a spot for me if I wanted to come back. If I could come back.
I use the bench as my own personal barre, slowly bend my knees, keeping them over my toes. Grounding my heels on the ground, I stretch down as much as I can, but I don’t make it past a demi-plié. I warm up for ten minutes, losing myself in the familiar movements. The stars reflect on the water; it could be the perfect backdrop for a production of Swan Lake. I wish I could position myself for a grand jeté, feel the wind surround me as I fly into the air, but I know better than to jeopardize the progress I’ve made. The last time I tried, my kneecap almost snapped again. Both my knees were smashed in the car crash, but my pivot leg suffered the most.
Instead, I angle my feet for some small pas de bourrée. I go faster and faster, until I bump into a rock. Fear steals my breath away. I avoid landing on my leg and instead fall on my ass.
Papa used to say there is a Russian proverb for everything. Whenever I was disappointed about a rehearsal gone wrong, I called him. He always asked me if I gave it my best. When I said yes, he asked me if I learned something, and then he would say Na bezryb’ye i rak—ryba, which means on a fishing lull, even a crayfish is fish. It was his way of telling me that “something is better than nothing.”
I repeat the words in my head as my fingers nervously circle my knee, testing for any signs of swelling.
“Are you okay?” There’s a guy in the shadows—with an accent and a nice baritone voice.
🙂 Can’t wait to share the rest with you soon!