The moment I saw Aracelli, I decided I hated her.

I was nineteen. For a year, I had been scrambling in the back rows of class and rehearsal at American Ballet. She appeared one sweltering May afternoon, a new student, serene, frail, with skin that gleamed like melted caramel and indigo hair so glossy it seemed always wet. A reverent space cleared for her at the head of the class, her very first day. Fresh from the Kirov school, she was flawless, an amber figurine come to life.

A stab of envy made my spine twist. My tongue swelled hard against my teeth as if I’d swallowed something too sweet. She smiled at me and I looked away.

When she and I were paired for the final allegro of class, grand jetes across the floor, my eyes stung. I was convinced our teacher had paired us on a cruel whim. I looked like a pudgy red-haired gnome next to her smoky opulence; her sweat-slick skin glistened with copper and turquoise lights.

I decided to pleasantly ignore her, but that only lasted a week.

“You know, Kim, the thing I like most about this place is the friendliness.”

It was the first time I’d heard her voice. It trailed up my neck like a silk scarf. I turned to where she sat in a perfect split, leaning forward on her elbows, smirking up at me. Her dark breasts swelled between her arms. Her damp, pink-covered legs writhed gently into the grimy floor.

We were the last ones in the studio after a distinctly miserable class. As soon as the pianist had begun playing for the warm-up that morning – just a quiet sarabande to nudge us out of stillness – Miss Greta, our teacher, had opened her bright red mouth and let forth a stream of outraged, piercing shrieks. Where her critiques lacked clarity, they had more than enough volume. Some students responded by spreading the hate around; gaunt girls gathered in the corners between exercises, watching as the others danced and sharing elaborate pantomimes of disgust. I resolutely ignored them but couldn’t escape their whispers, she – she—, like spit landing on my back.

I gazed at Aracelli for a moment after she spoke, almost convinced that she was playing with me. She drew her coltish legs into herself, resting her cheek on her knees. She blinked slowly. Her deep voice surprised me; it sounded pained and rough.

“Everyone’s so well-adjusted, and kind.” Her velvety eyes were wide and grave, but her mouth twitched.

A delighted laugh burst from my chest, startling me. I looked up at the ceiling, letting it shake along my spine.

“Yeah.” My raucous voice echoed down the corridor. “This is the one place I just say, ‘fuck it,’ and be myself.”

“You know it! Just let it all fucking hang out.” She was rocking with laughter now, her throat flushed. When her cheeks rose, her eyes narrowed and glittered, black as onyx. Her smile was fresh with kindness and a bite of wicked humor. Irresistibly subversive.

The empty studio seemed to hum uncertainly around us, as if unused to the sound of laughter.

She rose to her feet, slow and indolent. I tried not to let my smile fade as she stood, still smirking, shifting her weight into one hip. So perfect. My throat ached. Her tapered legs were taut and sleek, her waist slender as a sapling. The twin swells of her breasts were high and full, nuzzling each other playfully when she moved.

She moved towards me, chin lowered, a half-tame gazelle. Her lashes curled towards her temples. I reminded myself that I disliked her.

“I get the feeling that we’re not supposed to be friends. That’s, like, against the rules here, isn’t it?” She spoke more quietly than she needed to. I had never seen such a beautiful face so close to mine. Her cheekbones glinted like burnished gold.

When she was near enough to take my hand, she started whispering, a lazy purr. “How about we become friends anyway, and bust this joint wide open.” She squeezed my wrist and grinned. Her crowded teeth gave her a sly, feral look.

I couldn’t help licking my lips before I spoke. I blushed, knowing it made me look clumsy and weird.

“All right, we can shake on it.” I tried to regain some composure with a tinny laugh.

My laugh turned into a gasp when she kissed my cheek, swiftly. Her cool ear brushed my temple. I closed my eyes as she kissed one cheek, then the other, again and again. Her breath was sugary, her lips light as petals.

My hands twitched at my sides. Panic filled me; it seemed wrong to be this close to something so exquisite. I felt like a careless child about to smudge and drool over a priceless jeweled statue.

She kissed my forehead, my eyelids. Her scent filled my head. She wore some brisk expensive perfume, light as white wine, but underneath it her heated skin gave off the scent of cloying swamp flowers and moss. I rested my shaking hands on her shoulders and lifted my chin towards her glowing face.

We both moaned when our lips met. My awkwardness fell away like an old dead skin, and the flesh underneath was painfully alive, hissing with a low current. She drew my mouth into hers, gentle then gently deep, as if she were tasting a new fruit. I let my palms graze over her face. My eyes squeezed shut as I felt her delicate temples, her tiny chin, her trembling arteries. I never wanted to stop kissing her; it was like gulping spring water.

Her palms glided over my ass, cradling it, lifting it lightly. I cried out. My pulse thudded in my stomach, heat pooled between my legs until I felt my clit struggling fitfully against my tights, a tiny captured bird.

When I caught the tip of her tongue and sucked on it, she growled. She lifted one leg and wrapped it tight around my waist. Our breasts pushed together, play-fighting for room. She clutched the back of my skull, sinking her nails in deep. Bobby pins clattered to the floor.

Footsteps rang in the corridor, sharp and purposeful.

I started, covering my breasts as if I were naked. I stared at Aracelli and was shocked to find her smirking again, sinking her teeth into the plump flesh of her lower lip. Her smile was steady and unsettling. She reached between my legs, resting her hand over my swollen mound, trailing her elegant fingers one after the other in an unhurried beckoning. My legs shook. Her other hand slid under my palm to my breast. She brushed my nipple with her thumb, then turned away, just as the footsteps rounded the corner.

“What is this?” Miss Greta always wore a smart checked suit and a fox stole, no matter how hot the weather. Her eyes widened at Aracelli and me as we stood, side by side, squeaking with strangled laughter.

She was inhaling deeply, preparing to raise her voice, when I grabbed Aracelli’s hand and pulled her through the door. Miss Greta’s blistering stare followed us down the hallway. We burst into the dressing room, screaming and giggling, breathless as if we had fallen into icy water.

We spent the rest of the sweltering afternoon in my dank closet of room. Some violent, insatiable spirit took hold of us completely. We struggled, slick with sweat and saliva, grunting, sliding from the bed to my narrow, stained rug. Aracelli dug her nails into my ass when she came, wailing inconsolably, her back arched and still until she finally broke into furious thrashing. Her fists slammed into the wall beside me.

When sleep finally took us, it was mercifully swift and heavy. We lay unconscious, fists still wrapped in each other’s hair, bodies twisted tight and covered in tiny red scratches like kitten bites.

* * *

Three weeks passed. Aracelli spent every evening in my room, her long dark body stretched beside mine.

“You know, Kim, when I first saw you, I thought you were so fucking beautiful I couldn’t stand it.” She laughed.

I loved to close my eyes and let her voice glide over me like heated oil. My wind chimes rang softly out on the fire escape. Broadway’s traffic roared far below, a distant surf. I felt her lift partly and rest on one elbow. I lay still.

After her first orgasm, Aracelli was always transformed, losing her slit-eyed smirk and becoming winsome as a cat. She trailed one strand of her hair over my collarbone. With my eyes closed, I felt her shape shimmering beside me.

Her voice stirred the hair on my temples. “I couldn’t take my eyes off you, you were just so tiny and delicious. Your vanilla-cream skin, all downy and velvety like you were covered in powdered sugar. Your mouth, like a little candy rosebud. Mmm.”

She kissed me and I opened my eyes. Her hair cascaded slowly, swaths of heavy black silk over her shoulders. She looked contented and wild. With the dusk, the corners of my room were retreating into dull blue shadows. She gave off a soft crimson glow in the darkness like a banked fire.

She kept talking, her eyes moving up and down my body, her fingertips trailing across my stomach and combing through the damp, matted curls over my sex.

“You know, Kim, I first thought that I hated you, isn’t that funny? But it wasn’t hate, really, more that I wanted so desperately to be you, or just be close to you, all the time.”

Her fingernails were like polished opals, scratching over my pale nipples. She smiled down at me when I shuddered.

“Maybe envy,” she murmured, resting her lips on my forehead, “is that fine edge between hate and love.”

I bit my lip. We burst out laughing at the same time.

“Come here.” I lifted myself up, straining to see her face.

I gripped her shoulders, shifting down until my mouth was at her tight, salty breasts. My tongue moved restlessly, anxious as if it could never get enough of her skin. I rolled her to her back, trailing kisses down her flat, muscled belly. I lifted her ass in my palms so that I could keep watching her face as I closed my mouth over her slippery cunt. Her hips started to writhe but I held them tight, my fingers sinking in her flesh. My forearms shook with the effort.

I kept my eyes fixed on hers as I turned my head sideways. I let my tongue glide. Her pelvis pitched up when I found her clit. Still holding her, I lapped at it, persistent and gentle, until her spine coiled and her fists clenched in the sweat-soaked sheets.

I didn’t stop until she had come two more times. Aracelli was never more beautiful than when she lost control, her eyelids fluttering, her mouth working soundlessly, tendons shifting in her long throat.

Afterwards, I rested my cheek on her stomach. She filled her palms with my hair, lazily drawing out tendrils and spreading them all around my head.

“Kim, are you sleeping?”

“Mmm, no.” I woke up and kissed her navel.

“Let’s form an unholy alliance. Let’s work together this summer and go further than anyone else.”

* * *

Our strategy quickly took shape. I would teach her all of American Ballet’s repertoire, the uniquely angular, neo-classical style that she found so new and awkward. She would help me with my desperately weak technique. We felt we’d cracked a code, combining our strengths, each the other’s secret weapon.

Gossip spread that the summer workshop performance would feature Jewels this year. Recruiters from every major company would be invited, ready to give contracts to the most outstanding students. We decided that I would be cast as Emerald, and she as Diamond, and absolutely nothing else would do. We had five weeks before auditions would be held.

We sneaked into the studio on Sundays, pleading with the maintenance guys until they let us have a key. I had a bootleg tape of Jewels and we learned all the choreography, every phrase, from beginning to end. No matter what they threw at us in the audition, we would be ready.

One hazy Sunday, a week before the auditions, we watched each other run through each of the variations twice. Music echoed brashly, rushing to the ceiling. Aracelli finished the Diamond coda, then fell into a cartwheel, squealing with glee. She stood panting, radiant, sweat streaming down her neck. Her eyes were dilated and inhumanly black.

“Fabulous. The best one I’ve seen.” I slouched against the mirror, applauding weakly, drumming my heels into the floor.

She peeled her leotard down and leaned to work her tights off her legs. She was still panting when she lifted her arms into her flowered red sundress. I watched her flushed body disappear under a billow of rayon. By the time she shook her sweaty head free, I was standing and struggling with my leotard straps.

“No way, Kim. You need to do those sixteen fouettes again. Seriously.”

I glared. My legs were numb. “I did that phrase like five times today.”

“No,” she almost shouted. I took a step away from her. I’d never seen her like this. Small blue veins writhed in her temples.

“Aracelli, what the fuck. I did—”

“You did twelve fouettes and then like four half-assed turns to get through the rest of the music. Do you think no one will notice?” Her voice was so shrill my ears hummed.

She looked down. “Kim.” She swallowed, turned her head sharply. Her voice became deadly quiet. “If you want to just have fun, to just chill out and dance like a corps dancer . . . Then why am I wasting my fucking time with you?”

Her last words were a strangled, half-whispered scream. Her balled fist smacked into her thigh. I flinched at the impact.

I turned away, feeling my eyes darting about. The room still rang with her shrieks.

“All right. Go sit down and turn on the music.” My voice wavered.

“Don’t fake it this time—”

“FOR CHRIST’S SAKE I HEARD YOU!” I yelled it as loud as I could. Anything to drown out her voice. My nails dug crescents into my palms.

The music blared again, just as I turned and saw Aracelli’s blank, stricken face. She leaned her back to the mirror and sank into a squat. Her lower lip shook, her eyes filled.

I ran to my mark.

When I finished dancing, she was sitting with tears streaming down her cheeks.

I turned off the stereo. She was sucking her breath between her teeth, squeaking and trembling. Her eyes followed me.

I lay back on the gritty floor, trying to fill my lungs again. I wiped the sweat off my face with my forearms.

She gulped twice before she could speak. “I’m so sorry, Kim.”


“I don’t know what happens to me sometimes, it’s like I just become this monster. I hate myself when it happens. I try, I try to control it.”

I turned away from her, resting on my side. I felt I could fall asleep. The blood throbbed back into my feet and the pain made me wince.

“You think I’m a bitch, Kim, don’t you?”


I cringed, expecting her to freak out again. Instead she was silent. When I finally rolled to face her, she was covering her face with her dress, hunched over, utterly still.

I saw my reflection just past her, pale and sweat-drenched, purple shadows under my pained eyes. Half my hair had come loose.

When I stood, stars sparked orange and silver in front of my eyes. I reached down and squeezed her shoulders. She started, staring up at me. Her face was streaked with tears and sweat. I pulled her to her feet.

She rested her forehead on mine. I cradled her skull in my palms.

She was whispering now. “Do you ever feel, like, numb and raw, like your skin’s been all scabbed over?”

She glanced at me, swallowed, then kept speaking.

“Like it’s all been fried, like someone poured battery acid all over it, and then it just grew back all thick, with no nerves, no feeling.”

“Okay, okay, Aracelli. Shh.” I spread my hands over her burning head. I hardly knew what I was saying, I just heard deep, soothing sounds coming from my chest.

“I’m sorry, Kim. It’s hard to remember that other people get hurt, feel pain, that I need to act a certain way or else you’ll just …”

“Shh, baby.” Before I could say more she squirmed into my arms.

When our mouths met, searing lust rose up in my stomach. The room went dim around me. I bit at her mouth, her shaking neck. I pulled out her bobby pins and twisted her hair in my fingers, grabbing thick handfuls and pulling until she jerked with the pain.

We stumbled into the stool and I turned her around, pulling the straps of her dress off her shoulders. It rippled to the floor. I ran my hands along the gleaming topaz curve of her back.

My boldness made me shake. I had no idea what I intended to do. She was panting. I gently guided her, leaning her forward until her elbows rested on the stool’s seat. Her hair nearly reached the floor, a heavy gleaming curtain.

“Oh god you’re so beautiful, Aracelli.”

I kissed her downy spine. I wanted to bite her. Goosebumps rose along her arms. My nails left soft pale furrows on the twin swells of her ass. Her moan was low and deep.

I dropped to my knees and lifted one of her bare feet, setting it up on a side rung. The sight of her naked cunt was like an electric shock to my breastbone. My breath stopped as I ran my palms up her thighs. Her labia pouted obscenely, engorged and vulnerable. Her black curls glistened. Her scent was stronger and sweeter than I’d ever known it, rich as spiced honey.

When I touched two fingers lightly to her anus, her fluted inner lips unfurled at me, dark as plums. She bucked.

“Don’t move.” I rested my thumb under her clit, letting my tongue glide down one side of her labia. Her curls tickled my cheek. She sobbed and jerked, twisting towards my mouth.

“Shh, just feel it.” Her hair moved under my breath.

She kept twisting. I stood and swatted her ass once, playfully. She squealed. I rested my hands on her thighs, massaging, feeling her heat radiate up through my arms. Her ribs heaved.

“You felt that too, didn’t you?” I tried not to let my voice tremble. “Don’t make me smack it harder.”

I knelt again. Still kneading her flesh, I watched her labia contract and spread, a thick-petaled flower. When I saw her inner thighs shining, slick and golden, I couldn’t resist anymore. My eyes stung with tears.

I leaned in, my tongue tracing lightly over her mound, my fingers covering her clit in tender circles. The smell of her made me lightheaded and I moaned when she finally lifted her head, her back perfectly straight, writhing furiously and shrieking. Her cunt pulsed in my mouth. She shook for a long time afterwards, slow delicious aftershocks, turning her head from side to side and cooing softly to herself.

I eased her off the stool. We stretched out on the cool, dusty floor, cradling each other. Our breath became quieter as the room darkened.

* * *

We went to Aracelli’s place the next night. She shared a West Village loft with her aunt, an art teacher at Cooper Union.

Aracelli had been inviting me there all summer, but I kept finding excuses to stay away. It wasn’t that I hated the Village; it was glorious. The neighborhood was vibrant, endlessly complex, like a chaotic masterpiece of performance art that was just about to reveal its central theme. Each new block had something fascinating: flame-colored murals and steel statues, tiny stores packed with books, scents of lilies and fresh bread, snatches of mournful clarinet and Creole laughter. Art here was serious; there was an unspoken imperative to create constantly, to produce something that would appall and transport and devastate. To be the absolute best in your field.

I felt it should have inspired me but instead it made me numb with anxiety, wanting to curl up and hide.

“Kim, are you okay?” Aracelli was staring at me. Her face was gritty with dust. “You’re all pale.”

“It’s just—” I rested my palm on my forehead. The crowd surged around us, bristling with energy as the sky darkened. “It’s just so hot. The air’s so heavy.”

“It’s cooler upstairs. Come on, we’re here.” It was an old art-deco building, gleaming in the last rays of the sun as if it were gold-plated.

Aracelli’s dress puffed and floated around her legs as she bounded up the stairwell. “She’s away. We get it all to ourselves. Hurry up!”

I reached the top floor in time to see her poppy-red figure disappear down the murky corridor. Muffled shouting came from the other rooms.

I sucked in my breath when I followed her through the doorway. The loft’s whitewashed walls were draped with pastel silk prints and grainy, obscure photos. Half-formed statues, made of found objects and spray-painted silver, perched along the moldings like deranged household gods. A patched satin sofa was the only furniture; the rest of the front room was covered in faded, multicolored carpets and velour cushions.

I was speechless as I walked over to the window. The old-fashioned shutters opened over Washington Park. The sky was deepening to teal, with a haze of rusty brown and scarlet still glowing at the horizon. The park was a nest of tangled green shadows and flaring lights, filled with music and screams.

“I know, I know. I love it.” Aracelli grabbed me from behind, clasping her arms tight around my waist and rubbing her breasts into my back. Her thin dress was already gossamer with sweat.

She raked her fingers through my hair until it whipped around me in the wind. I shook it from my eyes. Her tender fingers found the back of my neck and I moaned.

“Kim, you look like one of those old paintings of angels.” She kissed my throat. “In your little blue dress, your hair all over the place.”

I sighed, leaning my head back on her thin shoulder. She ran her index fingers along my arms, from my shoulders to my wrists and back again, light as moth wings. My sex throbbed as if she were already cuddling it in her palm.

When she spoke again, her voice was hoarse. “Oh, Kim, I want to tie you somewhere and just fuck you and fuck you and fuck you until you’re screaming for me to stop.”

The wide darkness outside seemed to suck at me. My head spun. I tried to back from the window but Aracelli gripped my neck and bit my ear. Her hips pressed mine into the window’s ledge. I pressed my palms into the rough frame, bracing.

“Screaming and screaming until I gagged you.” Her nails in my throat made me whimper. “I’d gag you and make you come the way you’ve always needed to, come so hard you’d forget everything.”

She knelt. I was already wet, panting when she pulled my panties to my knees. She tilted my hips back and just rested her languorous tongue on my still-folded cunt, soft and maddening. The darkening streets swam before my eyes.

When she finally fed me her strong fingers, one after another, my broken cries were sucked into the heavy, humid wind.

* * *

We woke late the next morning, strewn flat across her aunt’s futon. We hadn’t eaten anything the day before and we were weak with hunger. We clanged down the staircase and burst out to the sparkling clear day.

We started with our usual coffee and one biscotti each, just to check out a dark, stylish café. We added more pastries, growing even more famished as we ate. The second breakfast turned into lunch. We finished with an armful of chocolate bars, giggling madly on a sun-warmed stone bench in the Chinese garden, sucking the last melted bits from the foil. I couldn’t remember when I’d eaten so much. My blood was so full of sugar that the world seemed painfully bright.

With my shoulder leaning on Aracelli’s I looked out over the slow-moving crowd and realized suddenly it was all laughably easy. Absolutely anything was possible. I let myself tumble down and rested my head on her lap. I didn’t care who saw us. Above me, she closed her eyes and lifted her sharp chin into the sunlight. Tendrils of wisteria and honeysuckle hung low, shaking vivid petals into the breeze.

We sat that way until the sun sank behind the trees.

“Come on, we shouldn’t wait too long.” Aracelli’s voice had a leaden ring as we descended into the deserted subway station. She tugged me into the women’s bathroom. Filthy shadows pooled in the corners.

“Wait for what?” I felt like I was drunk.

She knelt in an open stall, leaning over the toilet, her left arm working frantically at her mouth until her back spasmed. The smell made me retch and I stepped back.

She coughed only once and stood up, pressing a tissue into her lips. Her skin seemed to be dusted with ashes. I gulped, sucking in air around my tongue, willing my stomach to stop clenching on itself.

“What,” she barked. But I still couldn’t speak. She glared, her eyes dull as charcoal.

“I’m sorry.” I turned away. “I don’t do that. I – I don’t think it’s healthy.”

“You don’t—”

“I just, you know, diet.”

“You diet!” I didn’t need to see her face. Her laughter was strangely loud. “Well, Kim, no wonder—”

I faced her now. My ears rang and the miserable room went dim. She yelled in earnest. “Don’t give me that bullshit, Kim. What, you’re just going to let all that sit on your stomach?” Her voice ricocheted over the tiles. “With auditions in six days? Jesus Christ, you’re going to gain like five pounds.”

I flinched, blinking. Panic flooded my mind. I felt my skirt already growing tighter around my thighs.

I knelt where she had been and looked at my hands. “I don’t know how,” I murmured.

Her voice was gentle, almost sweet. “Here.” She crouched close beside me, holding out her long, bronze palm. “Use two fingers, hard, on the back of your throat.”

I tried. It just tickled. I hadn’t thrown up since I was five. My eyes became wet.

“Press really hard, on the part where your throat becomes soft.” Her voice was brittle with impatience now. “Christ, either do it or not.”

I reached further back, gingerly, breathing in little gasps, until I found the spot that made me gag. Before I could pull my hand away, Aracelli grabbed my wrist and shoved it towards the back of my head.

She stood up as I finished.

I couldn’t stop sobbing afterwards. My temples throbbed and my insides felt as though they’d been soldered into a black, smoking mess. I felt her standing over me and thought she would leave in disgust. Instead she knelt and wound her cool, slim arms around my neck, pulling until I fell back into her, holding my damp head under her chin. Her skin smelled like baby powder and vanilla lipgloss. She trailed her slender fingers through my hair.

“Kim, what did you expect?” Her voice was very quiet.

* * *

I was usually the first one at the studios in the morning, so I was surprised to hear voices in the cool, clean hallways that Wednesday as I arrived. A group of girls already huddled near the office doors. I made my way through them, slowly. I tried to listen for gossip, but there were only quick whispers, full of hissing rage.

A sheet was hung at the top of the bulletin board. Summer Workshop Performance Cast List.

Before I could read further, my shoulders tingled. I turned around. Aracelli gave me her mildest doe-eyed smile.

“What the hell, did you see this?” I pointed toward the board. “Auditions are this coming Saturday, aren’t they? This must be a mistake.”

“Well, they asked a few of us to audition for the principal roles last week. Everyone else will be the corps.”

“They asked—” I pressed my hands to my temples. My stomach squirmed, turning ice cold. I realized my mouth was open and I shut it quickly.

“Don’t get mad at me, Kim.” Aracelli’s tone was perfect; affectionate and reasonable. “Am I supposed to insist that they audition everybody?”

I laid my palms on my burning cheeks. A few girls were staring at us.

“Kim, a good solid corps dancer is so immensely valuable to a company.”

I closed my eyes and felt her arm slip around my shoulders, hugging tight before she disappeared into the murmuring crowd.

© 2004 Teresa Lamai. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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