The day she met him, the greenroom was crowded with Grandmas and Grandpas congratulating their little Angels and Mice after the final performance. Soldiers and Snowflakes lined up for autographs from the professional dancers, hired for the lead roles. Ivy’s turn with Irena was over; a scrawl on her program, a “good luck” and “who’s next?” to cherish. Ivy is jostled back into the crowd and she looks for her family, her stage smile masking her fading optimism.
Tommy’s there, one hand in Mom’s, the other clutching a rainbow-colored lollipop. Nothing is taboo today, because this week they’ll cut open his head and take out the cancer. Ivy swallows a lump in her throat. It’s wrong to feel resentment. She tries to think of dimpled hands thrown around her neck, that baby-voice saying “I lub you Iby.” She tries to remember her family before, when their smiles were real, when they weren’t afraid of anything.
She doesn’t want to join them now. She wants to run back on stage, where nothing exists except what she feels with her own body. The floor beneath her feet. The stiffness of tulle brushing her arm. The tug of the bun in her hair.
The voice has none of the timidity or bravado she usually hears from boys her age. Only confidence and expectation. His wide eyes are brown and bright like leaves on an autumn day. She widens her smile in recognition, trying to remember who he is.
He hands her a bouquet. He’s only a delivery boy, she’s mistaken; she doesn’t know him at all. But he dispels her disappointment, saying, “I’ve been dying to meet you.”
She can twirl on a toe, but he has her off balance. “Really?” she says, ineloquently, happy for the delay, happy for a cute boy to notice her, happy to be happy for as long as she can.
His hand stays extended. She laughs awkwardly, shifting the flowers. “Thank—“ she begins, but the words dissolve, as his fingers touch hers with a blazing shiver. She grips his hand tightly and searches his eyes for an explanation of the peace and pleasure and aching that pours over her.
“What do you think about angels?” he asks, releasing her hand, ending the euphoria. Ivy gapes at the boy, the NorthFace logo on his jacket, his swept-forward light brown hair, his toothy smile. With slow breaths, she answers, “It’s nice to imagine some force of goodness watching over us. Or are you talking about the dancers?” Ivy adds, as he raises a dark eyebrow.
“Guardian Angels? Everyone loves them. They have it easy.”
Ivy goes en pointe. “It is a child’s part.”
“You’re no child. You can choose your own way.”
She shivers again. Across the room, Mom talks with the other moms. Is she telling them to discourage their daughters’ dreams? Be realistic Ivy. Those professional dancers have wealthy families, it’s not a career for people like us. Even before Tommy got sick. . .”
“Who are you?”
“Who am I?” he asks, “Or who is this?” and made a sweeping gesture with his hand in front of his body.
She giggles, because weird things should be laughed at. “You’re freaking me out.”
“Then you do feel the power.” He clasps her hand again, the warmth returns, like a luxurious stretch after a grueling practice. “Don’t be afraid. You can dance like an angel, be as lovely and loved as one of us. The power of the angels is yours to command if you allow yourself to be my vessel.”
“Vessel?” She shakes off the fear. “Is this your lame idea of seduction?”
“Not like you think. Be here tomorrow. Four o’clock. In costume. And as proof, angel blessings for your brother.”
“My brother?” she asks, but he’s gone.
It’s four o’clock now. Ivy left her family celebrating Tommy’s cure. Tommy’s miracle, Mom said. Even the doctor could only insist that the scans were accurate. Had been all along.
Ivy pirouettes impatiently, and in the turns a faceless form appears. She shrieks, but the touch of his bloody hand infuses her with bliss and his voice soothes. “An Angel of Death can only become the dying; they’re not always pretty. That’s why I need you. I can’t seduce an Archangel with just any corpse.”
“My brother?” she whispers.
“I’ve withheld my hand, as your reward.”
“Reward for. . ?”
“For the use of your body. When I’ve achieved my goal, you’ll be free of me forever. Only the blessings will remain.”
Ivy nods, grateful for her brother, grateful that she doesn’t have to make this choice on greed alone. Water fills the room, warm and caressing, lifting her to the ceiling.
“Dance,” the Angel commands. “Don’t be afraid.”
Arms raised, she submerges. Her hair and dress swirl around her. Jete, tendu, arabesque. Her limbs execute the moves precisely, like dancing on air. The crystal chandelier hangs motionless as she churns the water with a pirouette. This isn’t real, she tells herself, as her lungs strain for air and water fills her mouth.
And then, her feet land solidly on the floor. Her tutu is dry; her hands alive and warm. “Is that it?”
“That’s all you’ll remember.”
“Where have you been?” Mom demands. Ivy stares blankly; she doesn’t remember getting home. Mom enfolds her in a tight hug. “Never mind. I love you. My teenager.” Tommy squeezes eagerly into their embrace, “And my baby, my teenager-to-be.” Mom says, tearfully.
Tommy reaches his arms up to Ivy, his trusting eyes brown and bright as autumn leaves.
There are costs to everything, Ivy realizes. But she’s not afraid.
Maria loves getting lost on vacation, watching movies in the theater, and laughing at anything she can. She’s currently obsessed like a teenager with MCR. When she was a teenager, she had a crush on Beethoven. She writes at night when her husband and kids are asleep. Sometimes when she’s asleep too. You can find Maria at http://nevermindwastingtime.blogspot.com/ or https://twitter.com/MariaAnnaWitt Or at a keyboard somewhere in Michigan.