Waltzing On A Dancer’s Grave
When Greta arrives at Grayson Place with her ballet company, her memories haunt her. Karl Grayson died there twenty years earlier, but she returns to the mansion for the company’s fiftieth-anniversary gala anyway, just as he wished.
Karl’s death freed her once. Or did it?
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Waltzing on a Dancer’s Grave
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Greta held the railing tightly and peered over the edge. Twenty years ago, he had fallen from here, fallen, fallen, spiraling slowly until he landed five stories below with a thud that echoed through the yard. She had clutched her hands together, squeezing them, trying to erase the feel of his silk shirt against her palms, thinking that for someone as graceful as Karl, falling should have seemed like flying.
At least he hadn’t screamed.
She jumped, her breath caught in her throat. Timothy pulled open the glass doors and crossed the balcony.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” he said. “You’ll catch your death.” Then he flushed in the deep, almost purplish way that seemed exclusive to redheads. “I mean that—?
“I know what you mean,” Greta said. She ran her hands over the goose bumps on her bare shoulders. “It’s cold out here.”
He put his arm around her back, warming her as he led her inside. The mansion still had a musty, unused air. Half of the company stretched out in the sunken living room. Long, graceful bodies reclined on the white sofas. Too many bare feet, with their corns, bunions, and bandages, rested on footstools. She always saw the bodies first. Her dancers were less human and more instruments to her.
Timothy closed the glass door. Sebastian glanced up from his place in the corner, his arm around the new brunette. Amanda Thigopolos. He was trying to get Greta’s attention by playing at jealousy. She concentrated instead on the brunette. The girl was perhaps eighteen, just out of high school, and could dance as if she had been born in toe shoes. Amanda was fine. Thigopolos had to go—too long and too Greek. She could shorten it when she had her own name on the program. Thigopolos would be fine as long as she was part of the corps de ballet.
“I assume you’re all settled,” Greta said. The company turned to her as a unit. Faces—white, black, and brown, circles under most eyes and skin gray with pain—stared at her. Pain was part of being a dancer. She had learned that from Karl. Ballet is impossible, he would say. Pain is a small price for doing the impossible. She ignored the evidence of the dancers’ exhaustion and overwork, and glared at them. “This isn’t Sunday. I didn’t say we would have the day off. Class in two hours.”
They groaned. Dale sewed a knot on his shoe, bit the thread, and gave the needle back to Katrina. Lisa rubbed her feet. Sebastian frowned at Greta. She ignored him. “Well?” she said. They stood, stretched, and left the room in a jumbled line caught at the door, looking like a company on the first day of rehearsal season instead of one that had been together nearly six months. She sighed and pushed back the scarf covering her graying black hair. No. The hair was silvering, not graying. She was growing old elegantly, as Karl predicted she would.
Karl. He filled the room. She could almost catch the scent of his cologne, rich and overpowering, like Karl himself. Sometimes she thought she saw him out of the corner of her eye. Six feet tall and too thin, his leg muscles nearly bulging out of his jeans, his hair silver, and his brown eyes blazing. She remembered those eyes mostly in anger, never in repose. Anger, and that deep fierce hunger he seemed to have for her, the hunger she had once thought would consume her.
“Sorry you came?”
Timothy. She had forgotten about him. He stood next to her, as he always had, protecting her and backing her, the silent partner who liked to remain silent.
“It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the company,” she said. “It’s only fitting that we do the anniversary performance here.”
The words were by rote. She had said them ever since she had decided to return to Grayson Place. Usually the answer satisfied Timothy, but this time, he touched her arm. “I was asking about you, Greta.”
She nodded. She remembered calling Timothy on the phone by the fireplace, her hands shaking so that she could barely dial. Karl’s dead, she had said. Did you call the police? Timothy asked. I want you to, she said. Always there, always beside her, from the trial to the fight to save the company and onward, always caring about her and never asking for himself.
“I think that if we are going to keep the place, we’ll have to redecorate.” She reached across the table beside her and touched the rounded lamp base. Its garish brown-and-orange glass was the height of the sixties tastelessness. “It feels as if time has stopped here.”
“Maybe it has,” Timothy said, and in his eyes she saw Karl, falling, falling, reaching out to her as he spun, his shirt fluttering in the wind, his gaze on her, strong as Karl himself, pulling part of her with him.
She shivered. That had been twenty years ago. She ran her hands along her upper arms. The goose bumps were still there. Timothy put his arms around her, but she ducked out of his grasp.
“Class in two hours,” she said, smiling slightly. “And I want to eat.”
Timothy watched her leave. Greta still moved like a young girl. Up close, though, her body gave her away. Her skin was wrinkling, softly, adding an elegance to her features, but the elegance was one of age. She was old, for a dancer, especially one who still practiced the art, but she was strong.
Greta was strong.
Timothy turned toward the balcony. Even now, he could feel the chill from that night. It had been cold when Karl died. Near freezing, although it was spring. When Timothy arrived, he found Greta, her hands shaking, still hovering near the phone. He had walked through the open glass doors, past the plastic patio furniture with its fringed umbrellas, past the deck chairs, Karl’s portable record player, and the small television set where they had watched The Wizard of Oz because Karl loved watching Ray Bolger dance. The concrete structure seemed almost a mile long and Timothy walked it inch by agonizing inch, knowing that when he reached the wrought-iron railing, he would have to look down.
The railing still seemed to vibrate, but the trembling was caused by the cold and his own fear. Timothy touched the iron gently.
The imitation gaslight on the courtyard four and a half stories below illuminated Karl’s mangled, twisted body. Karl, who had never made an ungraceful motion in his life, looked like a young boy who had tried his first tour en l’air, tripped, fallen, and refused to try again. Timothy wanted to whisper, “Get up, Karl, it’s all right,” but knew that Karl would never get up and everything would not be all right. Karl had died, and, in the living room, Greta washed her hands together like Lady Macbeth.
Timothy shivered. He’d tried to argue with Greta when she wanted to return to Grayson Place, but she wouldn’t listen. She wanted to do the anniversary event, wanted to do it here, and nothing he could say would change her mind.
She hadn’t been back to Grayson Place since the night Karl died. Even though she had inherited the mansion with Karl’s estate, she had let Timothy take care of it. He rented it out to friends and dancers, keeping it in constant use, but he hadn’t returned either. Not since the night he had decided to lie for her, the night before he first spoke to Greta’s attorney, two weeks after Karl died and almost a year before Timothy actually testified at the murder trial.
The brunette, the new one, the one Sebastian was dallying with, stood at the door. Timothy frowned, but couldn’t recall her name.
“My room is cold,” she said.
The whole place is cold, Timothy thought, but said, “The thermostat is on the baseboard heaters. You’ll have to turn it up.”
“It’s up all the way and the heaters are warm.” She shrugged. “But the room itself is freezing.”
Timothy sighed inwardly. More and more, managing this company meant playing nursemaid. If he were a little more trusting, he would hire someone to do this part of the job, the road work, and the day-by-day scheduling. He smiled. Trusting had nothing to do with it. He couldn’t leave Greta.
“Where’s your room?” he asked.
“Third floor, last one on the left.”
Greta’s old room. Timothy didn’t know why his heart started knocking at his rib cage. He followed the girl up the stairs, remaining one step behind her. Her long hair smelled of floral shampoo and he could see the muscles that had already developed into hardened lumps along her legs and arms.
The third floor was filled with light conversation, some laughter. A few doors were open, dance bags sprawled in the hall, leotards hanging over doorknobs.
As he passed one room, he heard a woman gasp. The door swung closed before he could look. He hadn’t really wanted to look anyway. He had seen it all before—twenty-five years of before.
“Hey, Amanda’s doing the casting couch school of dance,” someone called from a half-open doorway.
The girl in front of him blushed a little, but kept walking. Timothy admired that. She had guts. She. Amanda. Timothy repeated the name in his head so that he would remember. Amanda. Amanda the Greek, the one whose last name Greta hated.
“Right here,” the girl said. She stood to the side of the door in the last room, the one under the eaves.
Timothy stepped inside. The room was cold. Ice cold. Or perhaps the chill from the living room had returned. He hadn’t been in this room in over twenty years. Not since the night (he and Greta had made love in the big double bed under the slanting ceiling. He had scraped his back against the drywall and hadn’t cared because he was with Greta. Everything was fine with Greta) Karl had called Greta from the room. Timothy didn’t know until the next morning that she had gone to Karl’s bed, although he should have guessed, should have known. Karl, the great dancer who had become an even greater choreographer. Greta used to breathe his name when she spoke it: Karl says . . . Karl wants . . . Karl believes . . .
“I’m being silly, right?” the girl asked.
Timothy spun, half expecting to see Greta at the door. Amanda looked like Greta—tall, slim with long, dark hair. But there the resemblance ended. Greta hadn’t looked that young, that innocent, for twenty years. “No,” he said. “There’s a definite draft. We’ll have to move you to another part of the wing.”
“That’s okay,” Amanda said. “I kind of like the room and it’s only for a couple of days. I don’t mind staying here.”
I mind, Timothy thought. He crouched, touching the baseboard heaters. They were hot and the air coming through the outduct was warm. The chill seemed to be something that the heat couldn’t dissipate, like an iceberg with its own refrigerator unit. “The heat’s on. I could call someone—?
“No.” The girl shrugged. “I’m not going to be in here much anyway. All I need is a few extra blankets.”
“All right.” Timothy left the room. The hallway felt like a sauna. Tension rippled off his back. He had been wrong coming to Grayson. There were as many memories here for him as there were for Greta. Perhaps more. “I’ll see to it that the house staff brings up some blankets.”
If the house staff was fully together. Timothy sighed. He had too much work to do. He wouldn’t even get to watch class. Sometimes he wished that he hadn’t stopped dancing. The pain and the constant physical exhaustion seemed easier to deal with than the myriad of tiny details that commanded his attention all day.
He walked down the hall, wondering how badly it would hurt the anniversary performance if he simply flew home.
Greta felt as if she were twenty years old as she walked these stairs. They hadn’t changed much. The white carpet had been pressed by too many feet, its nap matted and turned downward. The wooden railing had a newly polished feel. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine Karl waiting for her in the practice room.
She used to love to be near him, couldn’t wait to touch him. The scent of his cologne used to send shivers down her back. But that had been in the early days, the first days. He continued to demand things of her, twist her to fit his shape, and she realized that nothing she ever did would be right for Karl.
Bend, Greta, arch—no, no, no, with finesse. Goddammit, girl, you could be a real dancer if you used that body of yours. Now, bend. No, like this . . .
It had grown worse after she had become his prima ballerina, the star of his company, and had moved in with him here at Grayson. Sometimes he would get her up in the middle of the night to try a new movement or run through a variation that had come to him in a dream. She had been always tired, aching, dancing with a constant pain in her left ankle, but that hadn’t been the worst of it. The worst of it had been the choreography.
She took a deep breath to ease the tension from herself and then rounded the corner. The dance wing of Grayson Place had been hidden back in the trees. When Karl built Grayson, he had been afraid that rival choreographers would send spies, that dance critics would try to see his works before the premiere. So the dance wing had no windows. Pines and overgrowth protected the outside. No one could get to the auditorium and practice rooms without coming through the center of the mansion.
This wing had stayed closed after Karl died, but someone had cleaned it, polished it. Greta could remember when the white walls held dozens of sweaty fingerprints and long black slashes from brushes with dirty dance bags. Down here, she felt at home.
She walked into the practice room. Dancers were already parading in front of the mirror on the far wall. Mike, the rehearsal pianist, played random chords, checking to see if the piano was tuned. The floor glistened. Several dancers warmed up along the barre. Some stretched along the floor, while still others sat on the sides, sewing shoes and wrapping ankles. The room smelled of sweat and medicated lotion.
Greta didn’t announce her presence. She went up behind Amanda and held the girl’s waist to straighten her. No wonder Sebastian flirted with her. Her skin was smooth and supple, and she moved easily. Greta grabbed Amanda’s right arm and bent it above the girl’s head. “Your movements have to be softer,” Greta said.
Sebastian was watching her. She couldn’t read his dark eyes. She was growing tired of him. She was growing tired of all the young men. She hadn’t had a lover older than twenty-four in nearly two decades. It was time to stop hiding behind their responsive skin and quicksilver moods, time to take a real risk in a relationship again.
She knew that Timothy was waiting for that.
“As usual,” she said. “Battement tendu.”
Mike began the battement tendu music. Dancers slid into fifth position, feet touching and the heel of the right foot in front of the left toe. Then they extended one leg, moving the toe forward until it touched the floor directly in front of the body. Greta watched, seeing the differences in movement, the variations in style. The dancers slid their right foot back and then to the side, slid the foot back and behind. The movements seemed to take only a fraction of a second, but Greta saw each one.
“Sebastian,” she said. “You’re sloppy. Head up.”
He didn’t look at her, but continued watching the mirror as she instructed them through the battement tendu jeté. Small thuds echoed as feet slapped against the floor. Greta walked over to Sebastian, and kicked his left foot into place. “Don’t look down,” she said. He frowned.
They moved to the battement frappé, battement fondu, rond de jambe. The smell of sweat grew. Greta watched them, adjusted an arm here, a leg there. Finally she clapped her hands and the music stopped.
“Sebastian only. Grand battement,” she said. The dancers near Sebastian moved away. Under Greta’s command, he brought his foot forward into a high extension. “Stay,” she said.
He held the position, leg at a hundred-and-thirty-degree angle in front of him. His entire body started to tremble and his mouth opened into a small “o.”
“Go on,” Greta said. He moved down into a deep plié with one leg, the other in front. “Stay.” She stopped beside him. “Messy, Sebastian. Your line isn’t clean.”
“What are you doing?” he whispered. Sweat rolled down the bridge of his nose and dropped to the floor. His body was still trembling.
She didn’t answer. “Finish,” she said. He slipped his legs back into fifth position. Then he stood, bent over, and clutched the back of his knees, stretching and taking deep breaths. Greta put her hand on his back. She could feel the ridges of his spine beneath her palms. “You’re breathing too hard. Your posture’s bad and you look as if you are thinking about your feet. You’re lazy, Sebastian.”
“Why are you singling me out?” he whispered. “What are you doing, Greta?”
A thread of anger traced its way through her stomach. If she hadn’t slept with him, he would never have asked the question. She was Madame, the head of the company, and no one was supposed to question her.
“I am conducting class.” She clapped her hands. “Whole group.”
The dancers returned to the barre. She started again: battement tendu, tendu jeté, frappé, fondu, rond de jambe. But she wasn’t watching the dancers. In her mind, she could see Karl moving among the dancers, yanking an arm out, extending a leg. One of the dancers exclaimed as if in pain, but Greta kept them moving.
“How much longer you want to repeat this pattern?” Mike asked. His voice had an edge to it, as if he had asked the question more than once.
Greta’s heart was pounding. She didn’t want to stay in the practice room any longer. If she did, the ghost of Karl’s memory would have her out there, moving through her paces like she had moved Sebastian. Like she had moved Sebastian. Singling out one dancer had been Karl’s trick. Karl had always done that to her as his way of proving that she was not his favorite.
Her stomach twisted and for a moment, she thought she was going to be sick. She clapped her hands and the dancers stopped. “Lead class, Katrina,” Greta said and walked out of the room.
Sebastian stood under the shower, letting the hot water caress his tired muscles, soothe his aching legs. He opened his mouth and listened to the droplets tap against his throat. The water tasted slightly of rust, but he didn’t care. He frowned, remembering the odd note of command in Greta’s voice. Stay . . . Go on . . . Stay . . .
A bar of soap hit him in the back and skated across the tile. Sebastian spit the water out of his mouth and then turned. Dale hung a fluffy blue towel he had stolen from the Hyatt on the peg beside his shower. “Get this,” he said. “A shower room in a house.”
“This isn’t a house,” Sebastian said. His back muscles twitched where the soap had hit him. “It’s a goddamn fortress.”
“No shit. Not even the American Ballet Theatre has facilities this good.”
“The American Ballet Theatre didn’t have several hundred million dollars and Karl Grayson.” Sebastian picked the soap off the floor, rubbed the bar between his hands until it lathered and then began scrubbing his chest.
“I wonder why we don’t use this place more.”
Sebastian’s hands had moved to his belly. The last three nights before they had come to Grayson, Greta had screamed Nooooo! in her sleep and then had said, a few minutes later, in a very flat voice, Karl is dead, Timothy. Her entire body would shake and when Sebastian tried to ease her into wakefulness, she would scream again. “Grayson died here,” he said.
“So? Someone afraid it’s haunted?” Dale ducked his head under the nozzle, spraying water in several directions.
Maybe for Greta it is, Sebastian thought, but said nothing. He finished soaping his legs, then moved to his feet. He had a new pain, almost like a bruise, between the first and second toes of his right foot.
“Madame was sure a bitch today, wasn’t she?” Dale shook the water from his hair. “You gonna share that soap?”
Sebastian stood up. He tossed the bar as hard as he could, hitting Dale in the stomach. The soap bounced off and skittered away, as it had after it hit him. “I don’t think Greta likes it here.”
“Greta, Greta, Greta,” Dale mimicked as he went for the soap. “I don’t think she’s too happy with you either.”
“Yeah.” Sebastian frowned. Greta’s voice seeped back up to him. Stay . . . Go on . . . Finish . . .
“I think maybe you should keep your hands off that little girl for a couple of days and maybe Madame will let you dance like the rest of us.”
“Yeah,” Sebastian said, but he wasn’t really listening. Amanda wasn’t the problem. Greta didn’t get jealous, not in the normal way. She knew that no one compared with her, knew that Sebastian needed a little adulation too.
She only got angry when his dalliances became disrespectful and this one wasn’t even close yet. No. Something else was bothering her. Something she hadn’t told him about.
Sebastian shut off the shower. He wrapped a towel around his waist, sloshed across the tile, and tiptoed onto the icy concrete floor lining the dressing room. He would ignore Amanda tonight and he would talk with Greta. Maybe then he would know what was really going on.
Greta looked at the long, polished wood table in the dining room. Four white tapered candles flickered along its length. Twenty places, set with bone china, ran along the sides. One place had been set at the head. Greta stared at it. Her place now. She was head of this company. She sat in Karl’s chair.
She had never really realized it before. She had been sitting in Karl’s chair since the trial and since Timothy had found an attorney good enough to settle the estate. But she had never before let herself think about what sitting in Karl’s place actually meant.
Bowls and empty wineglasses sat on the serving board behind the table. The dark red curtains were closed, blocking the view of the lake. Karl would have left the curtains open to watch the moonlight reflected on the waters.
She shook her head. That was wrong. He used to do that when they were alone. When the company was in residence here, the curtains remained closed so that no one would be distracted from Karl’s petty games and speeches.
The smell of roast beef dominated the food scents coming from the kitchen. Greta’s mouth watered. As she aged, she let herself eat things like red meat again, but she knew most of the company wouldn’t touch the stuff.
Dancers were vegetarians, usually, trying to keep the calories down so that the body remained thin. She was thin and almost always cold—especially here, in this place. Thin, but strong. The muscles in her arms and legs were as powerful as they had been when she was twenty-four. When Karl had died.
Laughter echoed in the hallway. Greta started and turned away from the empty table. She didn’t want to be down here when the company arrived. She wanted to make an entrance, to command their attention. That too was like Karl, but she couldn’t care. Many things she would do here would remind her of Karl. They had to. She had gotten her start in Karl’s company. He had been her first choreographer and the head of her first dance troupe. She had been in others, during and after the trial, but none were as well run as Karl’s. She had adopted many of his techniques in her own. It was no wonder that here, in his home, she would remember that.
She went into the kitchen. A man dressed in a white chef’s uniform placed broccoli florets on a bed of rice. A woman opened the long oven and pulled out the beef. On the other oven, over to the side, another woman set stuffed mushroom caps on a serving plate.
Once before, Greta had come through the kitchen to escape the dining room. Only that night, she had been escaping Karl and Timothy arguing over her. Timothy had been young then, and very hotheaded. The perfect male dancer, Karl used to say, temperamental, passionate, and very precise. It had been her relationship with Karl that had driven Timothy from the dance. And it had been Karl’s death that brought Timothy back into that world.
She pushed open the other door and went up the back stairs to her room. Timothy had placed her in the guest bedroom suite, thoughtfully keeping her away from Karl’s old room. She checked her appearance in the mirror.
Her skin was too pale and the shadows beneath her eyes were too deep. The long burgundy shirtdress that she wore open over her black silk camisole gave her additional height. The matching burgundy pants creased over the arch of her foot. If no one looked at her face, she appeared important, expensive, and powerful.
Then why was it that she felt like a trapped little girl again? The mansion brought back all of her helplessness, all of her rage. She clenched her fists together. Her fingertips were cold.
A sharp rap on the door startled her and she nearly cried out. She whirled around, staring at the door’s mahogany surface.
It was Sebastian.
“Can we talk?”
She glanced at the gold watch on her left wrist. “Dinner is in less than fifteen minutes, Sebastian.”
“I know. This won’t take long.”
She sighed and pulled the door open. He looked wonderful. Sebastian, the company’s star, in a black satin tuxedo that lengthened his shoulders and tapered his already thin hips into nearly nothing. She felt a heat on her cheeks as she stood away from the door. “Come on in.”
He bent over to kiss her, and she turned her head so that his lips brushed her cheek. “You’re stunning,” he said.
“Thank you.” She pulled away from him and walked to the table near the window. She put her hands on the leather armchair, indicating where he should sit. He ignored her.
“What happened this afternoon?” he asked.
The male animal in its youth. So proprietary. He let her lead him in the dance, but once the doors were closed, he seemed to think he was in charge. “You mean because I worked you harder in class than you’ve been worked in a long time? You’re the headline star, the one who supposedly draws the crowds. If you can’t dance at command, then the entire company is in trouble.”
Sebastian ran a hand through his dark brown hair, leaving it slightly messy, making him look rakish and even more handsome than before. “It’s not that,” he said. “It’s a lot of things. You don’t seem like yourself.”
So he had noticed that. He was more observant than she gave him credit for. She turned her back on him and looked out the window. Tall pine trees swished softly in the wind. She had been paying so much attention to the mansion itself that she had hardly noticed what was going on outside it.
“You don’t know what myself is, little boy,” she said and heard Karl in the words. He had been standing in the dining room, his hands tucked in the pockets of his jeans. You don’t understand me at all, Greta, he’d said. And why should you? To you, I am Oz, The Great and Terrible, and I am afraid that when you pull back that curtain and see that I am, in truth, a little old man without magic powers, but with the wisdom brought by age and experience, you will walk away, not realizing that wisdom is infinitely more valuable than illusion.
“I know you well enough to know that you’re on edge and upset.”
She snorted and leaned on the chair she had been holding. Upset didn’t describe how she was feeling. She hadn’t been in the place since Karl died—Timothy had taken care of all the arrangements—and she was feeling frightened. “I don’t like it here.”
“Then why did we come back?”
“To do the anniversary performance.” She looked down at her short, stubby fingernails. Even the burgundy nail polish couldn’t hide the fact that, at forty-four, she still bit her nails.
Sebastian put a finger under her chin and lifted her face to his. He smelled faintly of cologne. “What’s the real reason, Greta?”
She could see the brown flecks in his irises, the way his lashes turned upwards, and the tiny creases near the lids which narrowed his eyes and made his concern obvious.
The real reason. What was the real reason that she had returned to Grayson Place? The anniversary performance could have been held in New York. They would have had a less exclusive crowd, but a larger one. Something Karl had said. Something, the night before he died—
She shrugged to shake the memory away. “I don’t really know,” she said and to her surprise, tears lined her eyes. Sebastian slipped her in his arms. His body felt firm against hers, the satin warm against her skin.
“Stay with me tonight,” she whispered. The words came from the little girl, the one who seemed a part of this place, the girl who was afraid to be alone.
Sebastian kissed the crown of her head. “I’ll be here,” he said.
Amanda’s mouth watered. The food smelled wonderful—roast beef, gravy, cheese-covered vegetables, and fresh bread. She hadn’t eaten well since she had quit her waitressing job to join the company. An apple and scrambled eggs often served for all three meals. Dancers were supposed to be slim, but not anorexic. She watched the caterers carry the appetizers through the swinging doors. Amanda wondered how much she could eat without making herself sick.
Someone touched her shoulder. Amanda looked up. Katrina smiled at her. “Nice dress.”
Amanda blushed. It wasn’t a nice dress. Madame had insisted on formal attire for dinner, and all Amanda owned was her prom dress. She felt silly in a clingy, strapless gown that had seemed elegant in her high school gymnasium a year ago, but now seemed out of place and childish. Katrina, the petite principal dancer who had been with the company for six years, wore a bone ivory blouse over black silk pants. “You look beautiful,” Amanda said.
Katrina handed Amanda a fluted glass filled with wine. “The secret to looking beautiful,” Katrina whispered, “is to be comfortable. Everyone looks ridiculous in evening clothes. Look at Dale.”
Amanda glanced across the room. Dale stood near the window, deep in conversation with Lisa. He constantly ran his finger around the neck of his shirt as if it were too tight, and when he leaned forward, she could see the cummerbund bunch around his narrow waist. She glanced back at Katrina, who smiled. “The imperfections are always there,” Katrina said. “The secret is to pretend that no one will notice them. You really do look lovely.”
She touched Amanda’s arm and then walked away. Amanda took a deep breath. She looked lovely. Katrina’s words gave her a sense of power.
Timothy took an appetizer off one of the trays as a signal that the food was available for consumption. Several other dancers picked items off the trays. Amanda walked over to the countertop. Stuffed mushroom caps, vegetables and dip, crackers and a dozen varieties of cheese—there was enough food here to last her for an entire week. She set down her wine, grabbed a napkin, and filled it. Her stomach rumbled.
“I love these things. I can always tell who starves themselves for art.”
Amanda nearly dropped the napkin, but Timothy placed a hand beneath hers. “Careful,” he said. “You can’t let all that food go to waste.”
His palm was warm and his eyes understanding. She smiled to hide the blush that was returning to her cheeks. “Thanks,” she said.
“Is your room still so cold?”
She nodded. The goose bumps were just now beginning to recede. She had felt, as she slipped into her gown, as if she were changing clothes on a ski slope.
“I think maybe we should move you, then.”
“No.” The word escaped before she had a chance to think about it. Despite the chill, she liked the room. It reminded her of her bedroom back home, with the slanting ceilings and a view of the pines.
Timothy shrugged. “All right,” he said.
She put a mushroom cap in her mouth. Her stomach grumbled appreciatively. The cap had been stuffed with spinach, cream cheese, onions, and various spices, the mushroom itself sautéed in garlic and butter. Food had never tasted so good.
Then Timothy stiffened beside her. She followed his gaze.
Sebastian stood in the doorway, his arm protectively around Greta. Madame wore her hair in a topknot, strands framing her face, making her look younger and more vulnerable. Sebastian was watching her, and even from across the room, Amanda could see the love, admiration, and concern on his face.
She swallowed the mushroom cap. It felt like a lump in her throat. Suddenly she became conscious of the dress, her ragged haircut, and her inexpertly applied makeup. She started inching her way to the kitchen, but Timothy grabbed her elbow.
“Stay here,” he said softly.
She looked up at him and saw her feelings reflected in his eyes. Only the feelings were deeper, older. She felt something flutter in her stomach, a sense of kinship, perhaps, and then she looked away.
Amanda watched as Sebastian led Madame through the room. What was there to love about that woman? She was beautiful, yes. Her thinness made her eyes wider and gave her a power that seemed to belong only to eastern European women. She moved with a grace and strength that all dancers had. But beneath that exquisite surface, Madame was cold. She had never said a kind word to Amanda in six months with the company, and the way she had treated Sebastian in class had bordered on nasty. When Amanda had gotten the job with the company, her roommates had warned her about Madame, saying that she was the cruelest choreographer in the business. She demanded perfection. But her company attracted crowds because she usually achieved it.
Madame made her way through the room, stopping to talk with an occasional dancer. Her movements seemed less fluid than usual, more brittle, and Sebastian’s expression reflected a concern that Amanda had never seen. She shouldn’t be feeling so out of place and jealous. She had known from the first that his main affection was for Madame. But Amanda had thought that the affection would die when he turned his attention to someone more reasonable. Once he had gotten to know her.
Being a professional dancer didn’t stop childish daydreams. She took a deep breath. Timothy squeezed her arm. She nodded, as if to tell him that she would stay.
Madame took her place at the head of the table. Sebastian sat at her right. The rest of the company brought their drinks and picked seats. Timothy kept his hold on Amanda’s elbow. He led her to the chair beside his, to the left of Madame.
Sebastian nodded at her. His eyes held no apology. It was as if he didn’t see her. Perhaps he never had. Amanda’s stomach tightened. The servers placed a large plate of roast beef in the center of the table, two gravy bowls, potatoes, but the food had lost its appeal. She could feel Timothy watching her.
He leaned over, placed his hand on her bare back in a gesture of familiarity. “You have to eat,” he whispered. “You have to smile and you have to enjoy yourself.”
The words were kind and she knew their basic truth. If she had problems with Madame, Amanda would have to leave. A thousand dancers lived in New York, but the company had only one Madame.
Timothy took his hand from Amanda’s back. Shivers ran up and down her spine. He handed her the platter of roast beef. The china was warm. She took two slices and passed the platter on.
“It’s cold,” Madame said.
Amanda looked at the other woman. Deep circles ran under Madame’s eyes and, up close, her face seemed drawn and pale.
“I’ll see if they can turn up the heat.” Timothy put his napkin on the table.
Madame covered his hand with her own. “I don’t think this has anything to do with the heat, Timothy.”
Something seemed to pass between them, some knowledge that Amanda didn’t catch. Timothy nodded. He grabbed a spoon and loaded his plate with broccoli and rice. Then he picked up Amanda’s plate and did the same.
She turned her attention to the meal as, all around her, the room grew colder.
Karl sat on the balcony railings, one ankle resting on his knee, his hands on his thighs. He was talking to her, but Greta couldn’t hear him. A chill, light breeze fluttered through her hair. Her ankle ached and her muscles were sore. She was exhausted, physically and mentally. Tired of fighting. Tired of Karl.
Behind him, the tall silhouettes of the pine trees were blue in the darkness. Through the trees, she could see the moon shimmering against the surface of the lake. Then she realized that it wasn’t the moon. It was the northern lights.
Karl was still talking, gesturing now. She still couldn’t hear him. She didn’t feel like a twenty-four-year-old woman. She felt fifty and defeated, her life over before it had begun, trapped here in this place, under this sky, these stars, with this man.
“Karl,” she said, her voice low, husky, seductive.
He stopped talking and watched her. She stepped forward, hitting the heels of her hands against his chest, hitting him with such force that he fell over the rail, clutching for her and missing. She thought, in a second of clarity, that if he had grabbed the railing, he wouldn’t have fallen. But she had applied the right pressure to the right place and he fell, spinning, his shirt fluttering, his hands reaching for her, until he landed against the flagstones of the patio with a crack that echoed through the yard. She grabbed the railing and leaned over. His body was twisted, unnaturally even for a dancer, and a dark stain was seeping across the pavement.
For a minute, she thought he was fooling, waiting until she ran across the pavement to grab her wrist and wrench it behind her back, to hurt her as much as she had hurt him. But he didn’t move. He didn’t call to her. He was dead.
The realization brought her—freedom. Freedom. She had to call Timothy.
Suddenly he was there beside her, holding her in the darkness. Not Timothy, but Sebastian. How did Sebastian get in her room? And then she remembered letting him in because the mansion frightened her.
“You were talking about northern lights and calling for Timothy,” he said. “Everything okay?”
She swept her hair out of her face. The hair fell to the center of her back, wrapping her in warmth. The soft, shining smoothness of it had seemed like her only comfort with Karl. “Nightmare,” she said.
“You’ve been having them a lot since we decided to come back here.”
“We didn’t decide,” she said. “I did.”
And then she knew what was wrong. Karl had said to her in the dark, his lean body against hers, his hands caressing the insides of her thighs, What I want most is to come back here in twenty years, at the fiftieth anniversary of the company—
Thirty-fifth for you, Greta had said.
He shrugged, waving it away. We’ll have a gala here, at Grayson, showcasing the best of the company. You’ll be a choreographer then, Greta. . . .
If I live that long, she thought.
. . . And we will make a small fortune on memories.
He had been talking about that when she pushed him. The thought of another twenty years with Karl, under his thumb, losing the best of herself to his wishes—
She shivered. Sebastian drew the blanket up. “Must have been some nightmare,” he said.
She nodded, remembering Karl, the feel of his hands on her skin. “You ever have those dreams that start out scary and you turn them into something freer, more pleasant, and then they start to get scary again, only worse—?”
Her voice shook. She wasn’t sure if she was talking about her dream or her life. Sebastian still held her, but his grip had loosened. “Should we leave?” he asked.
She laughed, but the laugh sounded forced. “Because of nightmares? Don’t be silly.”
He eased her back down on the pillow, running his hand through her hair as if she were the child, and she clung to him, thinking about what she would have to do to cancel the fiftieth-anniversary gala. The ads were done, the promotion campaign had run for nearly two years. They were in the final stages. She couldn’t pull the company away now without losing a fortune.
“We’ll stay,” she whispered against Sebastian’s broad, furred chest. But, as she drifted off to sleep, she thought she heard Karl, laughing.
Timothy sat on the bed, his hands clasped tightly together and shoved between his thighs for warmth. He waited for Amanda to return from the bathroom. He wasn’t supposed to be sitting on her bed. He was supposed to be investigating the room, seeing if he could find the source of the draft. But the room seemed warmer to him than it had before, and he wondered if perhaps the heaters had merely needed time to function properly. This entire wing had been closed off until a month ago. They should have expected more troubles than one room with poorly operating baseboard heaters.
He heard a movement in the hall and his heart started pounding again. He felt foolish, waiting here for a girl who could have been his daughter. It would be so easy to say that he had found nothing and leave her, pretending that the reason he had used to walk her to her room hadn’t even existed. Easy, if it weren’t for that expression she had worn when Greta entered the dining room with Sebastian. He knew that expression intimately; it was etched into the grooves of his face. Only he had let it eat at him, become part of him, as the betrayals were repeated over and over again. He wouldn’t let that happen to this little girl.
Amanda. If he truly cared about her, he would use her name. Timothy stood up and tugged on the crease in his satin pants. He should go before he did more damage. He knew what it was like to be on the wrong end of a relationship. Amanda didn’t need two men to teach her the same lesson.
Her door opened and he saw Greta there, the young Greta, the one he had fallen in love with. “Find anything?” she asked.
The voice was all Amanda, but it didn’t entirely destroy the illusion. He saw two women, a ghostly one—the remembered one—superimposed on the real one.
“No,” he said. He took her hand and brought her inside, closing the door behind her. Then he wrapped his arms around her, letting the light floral scent of her fill him. Her arms caressed his back, pulling him closer. He could feel the need in her grasp.
The room seemed warm, almost too warm, as he bent down to kiss her. Her hands found his hair, holding him, as their kissing grew more passionate. He slipped his fingers into her gown, unhooking the back, and it fell off her into a pile on the floor. She managed to unbutton him, free him, and he lifted her, her dark hair flowing over his arms, onto the bed.
He felt young again, a dancer again, strong and in love. As he entered her, his back scraped against the drywall, but the pain seemed worth it, worth this moment, Greta writhing beneath him, loving him as he loved her. Finally the pressure grew too much, the love too much, and he poured himself inside her, calling her name over and over, collapsing, sticky body against sticky body, his back aching and raw.
Something warm trickled against his ear. He pushed up onto his elbows. The girl’s face looked back at him, mascara ringing her eyes and leaving black streaks down her cheeks.
“Jesus,” he said. “Amanda.” And his heart went out to her. He had made it worse. She had lost to Greta twice in one day. The chill returned, almost as if it left Amanda’s body and seeped into the air around them.
“I’m sorry.” Timothy buried his face into the hollow of her shoulder. Her skin was damp, but whether with tears or perspiration, he couldn’t tell. “I’m so very sorry.”
Greta wrapped the velour robe tightly around herself. She grabbed her hair, shook it a little, and let it cascade down her back. Sebastian grunted, sighed, and rolled over. She glanced at the bed. He had a fist pressed against his cheek. He looked like an exhausted child who had fallen asleep in the middle of a ballet. Poor boy. She had kept him awake half of the night.
The dreams were getting worse. She had thought that she had put them past her after the trial, but since she decided to return to Grayson, Karl had reentered her mind.
She opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway. It was dark, the thick grainy darkness that allowed her to see vague shapes. The carpet scratched her bare feet.
She had left her youth in this place. Karl wasn’t the only thing that had died in the fall from the balcony. All of Greta’s dreams had died with him. Funny that she had gone on to achieve them anyway. Here she was, a major choreographer, head of her own dance company, wealthy beyond what she had anticipated, and she felt empty.
Light filtered through the balcony doors, reflecting off the living room’s white furniture. A too-full moon? Or the northern lights? She crossed the room stubbing her toe against a table leg and wincing with pain. When she reached the balcony doors, she touched the glass. It was cold.
This was the center of the mansion to her, the place she could not get out of her mind. At the trial, the experts had presented life in this room as verbally abusive, and her response as that of a classic victim pushed too far. All she remembered was the rage, the blind pure hatred. When Karl mentioned the anniversary performance again, she realized that he would never let her go, never let her be free to dance for anyone else. He would continue to borrow her choreographic suggestions and never let her work on her own. Forever, she would be his plaything, his woman, Karl’s Greta, something he had molded in his Svengali-like wisdom.
Her feet were cold.
She was standing on the concrete balcony, looking over the edge. She had been acquitted of the crime. The best defense attorney in New York had planted a reasonable doubt in the jury’s mind—there was no real proof that Greta had killed Karl—that, and Timothy’s willingness to lie for her, to say he was with her the entire time. She had been acquitted, everywhere but in her own mind.
And in this place.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled. Someone was on the balcony with her. She turned and saw something white and see-through shimmering near the patio table. Goosebumps rippled up her arm. The shimmering shape had a vaguely human form.
“Karl?” she whispered. Her entire body was one large heartbeat. Her hands were shaking and she felt vulnerable pressed up against the railing. Would he get his revenge by killing her?
The shape gained solidity. Hands, splayed and flat, stretched out to her. Greta stifled a scream and moved away from the edge, tripping and nearly falling forward. Arms grew from the hands’ wrists, slender, muscular arms. The hands grabbed at Greta, but slipped through her, dousing her in cold mist. She shivered, backed away, then remembered the railing. She would not trip and fall to her death. If she did that, she would be trapped here, with Karl, forever. But Karl couldn’t grab her. Karl had no strength.
She circled around, away from the hands, until her back pressed against the glass. She groped for the metal door handle and yanked on it. The door stuck for a moment. The hands came for her, dripping mist, dripping cold. Greta tugged. The door slid open and she fell through it onto the thick carpet.
The hands hovered in the darkness. Greta was breathing heavily. She swallowed, then whispered, “I’m sorry, Karl. Really. If there had been some other way—?
“Karl forgives you.” The voice was husky, female. “But I don’t.”
Greta stood up. Her legs were shaking as if she were about to perform. She grabbed the balcony door and swung it shut with a bang.
The hands faded. Greta turned and ran out of the living room, her robe flying behind her. The room was safe. Her room was safe. Sebastian was there and he would awaken her, comfort her, make her forget.
She so needed to forget.
Sebastian’s eyes felt rough and gritty. His entire body ached. At least Greta was sleeping now. She had come back to bed ice-cold, shivering, and terrified. She wouldn’t tell him what had scared her—perhaps that loud bang that had shaken him from sleep—and it took him the better part of an hour to calm her down. Then he slipped into a fitful doze, waking as sunlight spilled into the bedroom.
Food, some in trays hovering over Sterno, had been laid out across the table, and used plates were stacked on the buffet. It looked as if most of the company was already awake. They were probably walking or in the practice room stretching. The only person left in the dining room was Timothy. Sebastian grabbed a plate and heaped it with scrambled eggs, sausages, and fruit. He poured himself some orange juice and sat down next to Timothy.
Timothy looked old this morning. His hair was tousled and lines creased his face. He didn’t look up to acknowledge Sebastian, but continued staring into his coffee.
“Greta hardly slept at all last night,” Sebastian said.
Timothy looked up. His eyes focused on Sebastian for the first time, and Sebastian realized that the man hadn’t even known he was there. “What?” Timothy asked.
“I said Greta hardly slept last night. Nightmares. And they seem to be getting worse. I think she was sleepwalking.”
“Wonderful.” Timothy got up, grabbed the silver coffeepot, and poured more coffee in his cup.
“I don’t think she should stay here.”
Timothy sat back down. “I don’t think any of us should.” He shrugged. “But we’re committed.”
“Can’t we at least get Greta out of here? This place isn’t very healthy for her.” Sebastian’s hands were trembling. He had never been this direct with Timothy before.
“It’s never been healthy for her. No reason it should change now.”
Sebastian swallowed, feeling the frustration build. “I don’t think she should stay here, Timothy.”
“If the company stays, she stays. You know that.”
“Then let’s cancel the performance.”
Timothy smiled, but the smile was wan. “We’ve spent too much time and too much money on this performance. We couldn’t cancel it if we wanted to. It’ll all be over tomorrow. I think we can all make it until then.” He took a final sip of his coffee and stood up. Sebastian watched the other man leave. Timothy had never been that curt with him before. Perhaps it was the mention of Greta’s night. It was clear even to the half-observant how Timothy felt about Greta.
Sebastian sighed and picked up his fork. Water from his eggs had congealed on the side of his plate. He pushed the plate away, grabbed an orange from the fruit basket, and headed for the practice room.
Greta awoke to the feeling of hands around her throat. She touched her neck, but found nothing. Then she reached for Sebastian. He too was gone.
She sat up, her heart racing. It was a dream, nothing but a dream. But she knew it wasn’t. As she dressed, she noted a loose flap of skin on the toe she had stubbed. Her velour robe was streaked with dirt. She had been on the balcony during the night—and something had been there with her.
She tied her hair up in a kerchief and glanced at the clock. She was running late. Class in fifteen minutes. She decided not to eat—eating would simply get in the way. She would go down and warm up with her dancers. Exercise would remove the crawlies from her skin. And the memory of that voice.
Karl forgives you.
She had heard that voice before, but she couldn’t place it. It had sounded half-familiar, like the speaking voice of a famous singer. She took a deep breath to calm herself. It was daylight. Ghosts didn’t emerge in the daylight. And the performance was tomorrow. She could last that long.
But as she walked down the stairs to the rehearsal wing, she wondered. It felt as if something were stalking her, following her. Twice she stopped on the stairs only to hear a stair creak behind her. She turned, but saw nothing.
An overactive imagination, she told herself. If it wasn’t the ghost of Karl, who could it be? She was safe as long as she remembered that the thing which tracked her was intangible, trying to get her to make her own mistakes so that she would die.
Most of the company was already in the practice room. Greta stretched and then took a place at the barre. Her legs hurt—she hadn’t been working out as she usually did—but she forced herself to work anyway, putting herself through paces that she hadn’t done in years. The woman’s face gazing back at her from the mirror was too old, and then she remembered. This was what she used to do when she had had too much of Karl, or when the trial got too rough. She would bend and twist her body beyond human measure and let her mind dwell on the physical aches instead of the mental and emotional pain.
Timothy used to accuse her of willing the emotions away.
A flash in the mirror caught her eye. Something white, not quite solid. She whirled, nearly lost her balance, and had to grip the thick wooden barre for support. Nothing. Nothing but dancers staring at themselves in the mirror, stretching their bodies as she had stretched hers. Sebastian wasn’t even here, so no white Danskins appeared in the room.
Greta took a deep breath. She was tired and too tense. She always got this way at the end of the season. Add to that the stresses of the mansion and its memories, and it was no wonder she was spooked.
Spooked. She tucked herself into a plié, feeling the muscles in her legs tremble. She had killed Karl here, pushed him with all of her strength off the balcony. A woman should not be haunting her. The ghost in this place should have been Karl.
A cold hand touched her shoulder. Greta whirled. No one stood behind her.
“Are you all right, Madame?” Dale asked.
Greta nodded, feeling slightly foolish. “Are you cold?”
Dale smiled and wiped at his flushed face. “God, no. I think we could probably turn off the heat in this room.”
She turned back and gripped the barre tightly, doing another plié and going down until her thighs were horizontal. She was the only one who felt the cold, the only one who saw the ghost. She had to handle this one all by herself.
Amanda stood in the door of the practice room, watching Greta. The old woman moved with a perfection that Amanda’s young body could not hope to achieve. Amanda rubbed her hands against her leotard. She was cold. She had been cold ever since she awakened, alone, Timothy gone. Timothy, with his cries of “Greta!” in what Amanda had hoped would be a moment of mutual comfort. Greta. Madame. The bitch.
Amanda dropped her dance bag beside all the others, taking in the familiar scents of sweat, leather, and lotion. She stretched, then rubbed powder on the inside of her shoes and took her place at the barre.
Madame whirled, her face pinched and frightened. She appeared to be looking for something, something she had seen. Amanda felt something touch her, cold hands running down her spine. For a minute she had the impression of a man falling, falling, spinning, his hands reaching out, and then she got dizzy as she followed him, clinging to him because he wouldn’t let her go.
“You okay?” Katrina held her shoulders. Amanda blinked at the other dancer, still feeling off balance.
“I got dizzy for a minute.”
“Sit down.” Katrina led her to the side of the room. “You haven’t been eating well, have you?”
Amanda started to deny it, but Katrina put up her hand. “I saw the way you ate last night. You can’t cut out food. You need your strength for the dance.”
Amanda nodded. Food wasn’t what she needed. She needed to go somewhere warm. The cold had settled in the pit of her belly like a little iceberg fetus. She frowned, remembering the rush of chill air past her ears and the feeling of falling. “I’ll be all right,” she said.
“Okay.” Katrina got up and walked to the barre. Amanda hugged herself and closed her eyes. She was lying on the flagstones, covered with blood—a man’s blood. She looked up and saw herself leaning over the balcony. Then she reached up a hand and realized that it was etched in mist, that she had no substance.
Something was inside her. Those weren’t her memories. That was Madame leaning over the balcony—a young Madame, looking vulnerable and frightened. “Get out,” Amanda whispered, but the thing’s icy fingers gripped her even tighter and she stood up, even though she didn’t want to.
It was in the room. Greta couldn’t ignore it any longer. She turned and looked at the dancers, keeping an eye on the mirror. She hadn’t seen any more white flashes, no hands appearing mysteriously out of the air. If she stayed here, she would see that. It would reveal itself to her and she would look foolish in front of her dancers. She couldn’t risk that.
If she left the practice room, it would follow. She adjusted her kerchief, stepped away from the barre and crossed the polished floor into the hallway.
Amanda. That little slip of a girl. Greta glanced over her shoulder. The girl’s eyes held something strange. Fear? The girl glanced at her for a moment, Greta thought she was seeing herself. No. She was simply looking at a leggy, dark-haired teenager. All new dancers had that frightened expression, especially around their choreographer.
Greta hurried out into the hall, Amanda forgotten. The living room would be the place to go. No one would be there now. She hurried up the stairs. The bones in her ankles felt brittle, especially the left ankle, where she had had the old injury. She remembered this feeling in the pit of her stomach from those last days with Karl—a feeling of heaviness, oppression, coupled with the knowledge that if something didn’t change, she would crack.
Sebastian nearly crashed into her as she rounded the top stair. He caught her arms. “Greta, are you okay?”
“Fine,” she snapped. She didn’t have time for Sebastian and his concerns. She was going to settle this. She could feel the shape at her heels, like a bad dream, hovering, threatening to reveal things that should remain secret. Greta opened the door to the living room.
Timothy sat in the overstuffed chair, staring at the silent phone. He glanced up at her, his eyes sunken and haunted. She couldn’t stay here either. Timothy would try to handle it for her, and he couldn’t. This was one that she had to handle herself.
Greta pulled open the balcony door, feeling cool air wash over her. Fear rose in her stomach, but she pushed it away. She thought she had ended things here once. She would try again. The ghosts lived on the balcony, not in the mansion. The memories centered around this concrete overhang with its molded iron railing.
She stepped onto the concrete, past the patio furniture, feeling the breeze whip at her kerchief. Behind her, the patio door closed. Amanda stood there, looking young, powerful, and angry.
“Leave me alone,” Greta said.
“Like you left me all these years?”
The voice was not Amanda’s. It was the voice Greta had heard the night before, in the darkness. A gauzy film completely obscured Amanda. Greta squinted, recognized the shape.
She should have recognized it. She had seen it enough in the mirror years back, dancing across from her, mimicking her moves. The dancer. The prima ballerina. The girl Karl had loved, used, and misused. The one who had approached Karl and hit him with the heels of her hand.
“You killed him,” the voice said. “Then you left me here with him. And the only way I can get rid of him is to give him you.”
Amanda seemed diminished. Greta reached for her, and stopped when she felt coldness around the girl’s body.
“Who are you?” Greta asked.
“So long that you don’t even remember.” There was pain in the voice. Amanda came closer.
Greta did not move.
“Let me show you,” the voice said. Amanda touched Greta’s arm. The chill slipped into her, filling her. Pain flooded in with the chill. Physical pain first, from the years of stretching an underdeveloped body into the dance. Then dreams of being a prima ballerina, adored by the crowd, by people, by those close to her. And then Karl, taking those dreams, shattering them, image by image. You could be a dancer if you use that body of yours, he had said at the height of her career. She had the adulation, but she couldn’t enjoy it. She was talented, loved, but imperfect. Karl kept stretching her and stretching her until she thought that she would break, she knew that she would break, and she hit him with both hands and sent him flying—
The balcony door opened with a snap. Greta backed away. She didn’t want Timothy and Sebastian to see her like this. Sebastian stopped at the doorway, but Timothy kept coming. Timothy, who had loved the girl, would recognize the girl who had possessed Amanda.
Suddenly the cold left Greta, separated from her, and she felt hands slap against her chest, Amanda’s hands, chill hands. Greta’s balance shifted, and she knew that she was going to fall. She grabbed for Amanda’s wrists, but the cold was too thick. Greta’s fingers slid off Amanda’s skin. The iron railing dug into Greta’s thighs and she fell, spinning, turning. Timothy leaned over the railing and she reached up to him—Timothy!—he had always saved her, always, but then there was nothing, nothing but flagstones, sharp, all-encompassing pain (the last dance move, the final impossible twist) and Karl’s hands on her, lifting her.
Everything will be all right, he said, his voice kind and sad.
She looked up, saw herself—the other part of herself, the part made up of dreams and hopes, the part she used to think was the best part of herself—as mist engulfing Amanda. And as she watched, the mist disappeared.
Karl ran his hand along her hair. Silver, he said. Just like I told you. He put his arm around her. She looked down and saw her body twisted and bleeding on the flagstones. You don’t need it, Karl said. You will dance so much better without it. Come. There is much work for us to do.
Work. With Karl. Timothy! she cried, but he turned away and she knew that he couldn’t hear her, that he would never hear her or save her again.
You are mine, Greta, Karl said. He led her back inside, toward the auditorium. As they went through the open door, she thought she heard laughter, female laughter, following them.
The rusted iron cut into the palm of his hand. Timothy leaned over the railing. Greta lay there in a final, obscene curl, her body at last failing her. He sighed, having seen it before, from the same balcony, knowing that she, too, was dead. Only this time, it didn’t come as a shock. Somehow he had always known that Greta would die, perhaps because she had never seemed completely alive—not since Karl’s death.
Timothy turned. Sebastian stood against the glass doors, his eyes wide. Amanda clutched the railing, swaying. Her face was white, her features jutting out prominently against hollow cheekbones. He wondered how he’d ever thought that she looked like Greta. Amanda looked like herself.
Timothy closed his eyes, again seeing the young Greta push her older self off the balcony. Amanda was simply a tool, nothing more.
“Did you see it?” Timothy asked. He opened his eyes.
“Amanda pushed her,” Sebastian whispered.
“No!” Amanda cried. Her voice was shaking. Timothy put a hand on hers. Her skin was damp, chill, as if she had been buried in snow.
“Madame fell,” Timothy said. The second lie was easier than the first, perhaps because this time, it was not really a lie. “Greta slipped and fell.”
Sebastian locked eyes with him for a moment, then looked away in tacit agreement.
Timothy took a deep breath. Time to go to the phone, to tell the police about another body at Grayson. And when that was over, he would have decisions to make, about the company, about the performance (It wouldn’t be an anniversary performance. It would be a memorial), about the publicity. Funny that he didn’t feel tired. Or sad. Or even empty.
He felt free.
Copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
First published Asimov’s, March 1991
Published by WMG Publishing
Cover and layout copyright © 2018 by WMG Publishing
Cover design by Allyson Longueira/WMG Publishing
Cover art copyright © Nejron/Dreamstime
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.