"So why did you go to London?"
A name appears at the bottom of the screen: Eva Rodriguez. Eva shifts in her chair. Her hair's loose, easy to see in front of the red backdrop, and she brushes a few strands over an ear. She smiles. "That's the question you want to start with?"
"It's important, don't you think? You coming back to the company."
"Doesn't everyone in this company run to London for the same reason? You remember Cooper Nielsen, don't you?" Eva's laughing, but her look is very direct, probably toward wherever the interviewer is sitting off-camera.
Eva's look softens when the interviewer asks, "So what are your goals now that you're back?"
"Who knows?" Eva eyes the camera for a moment before turning back. "I'm in it for the dancing. Always have been. I'll let that take the lead, and everything else..." She claps her hands together. "It falls into place on its own, usually."
"Give her room, give her room!" Eva stands from the table and puts her arms out to her sides. Not all the way - intimate restaurants in Brooklyn don't give that kind of room - but enough to make her point.
Jody rolls her eyes as she slides her way into the booth. "I'm four months pregnant, not about to die."
"Didn't want anyone to bump the sacred vessel," Eva says innocently. She takes her seat next to Jody and gives her a big hug. "Looks like I came back just in time. I wouldn't want to miss this."
"Because you won't be in rehearsals when Jody gives birth," Maureen says dryly from her side of the table. She's smiling, and she'd returned Eva's welcoming hug a few moments ago just as warmly as Jody did.
"But I'll be able to visit in the hospital. Or when you get home?" Eva looks Jody's way. Jody nods. "When you get home. No Facetiming at weird hours. You get a real visit."
Jody shifts a little. "God, I just hope I'm not in rehearsals when that happens."
"What's that like, anyway?" Eva leans over. "Choreographing with Cooper?"
Jody talks about her maternity job until one of the wait staff takes their order. There's nothing in Jody's stories that appeal to Eva. It's not that Eva doesn't like different dance forms - she definitely hasn't stuck with just ABA and similar companies in her career - but she wouldn't ever want to dance for Cooper, and she's happy being primarily a classical dancer. Well. If happy is the word. It's close enough, anyway.
"What about you?" Jody asks when the server leaves, turning to Maureen. "It's dance dance dance over here. I don't know why you're subjecting yourself to both of us."
Eva leans forward, chin on her hand. "Yeah, I want to hear about Ms. Big Time Oscar Winner."
"Oscar nominee," Maureen corrects with a pleased smile. Eva's seen her red-carpet pictures online; Maureen had been wearing the same smile and a designer dress. Maureen might not be a ballerina anymore, but the carpet had definitely been her stage. "Just because I got to drink champagne in the same vicinity of Brad Pitt doesn't make my walk-up any less crappy. Anyway, I told myself I wouldn't talk about work tonight. I want to hear about you."
Eva shakes her head. "Uh uh, no way. We share, you share."
"You don't want me to start talking about the baby," Jody says. "I can't stop. It's a sickness."
Maureen takes a sip from her wine, shaking her head, but she's leaning forward. "If I talk about work, it's going to involve me asking favors. Of both of you."
Eva feels herself sitting up a little straighter - if that's possible, still being in training and everything - and she sees Jody doing the same next to her.
"You're not," Jody says, grinning.
"I am." Maureen winces. "I have to. They'll throw me out of the super-cool Oscar nominee club if I don't do a ballet documentary. I'll want to talk to both of you, but..." She turns a slightly apologetic smile toward Eva. "It's mostly about ABA."
Eva groans. She would probably collapse onto her arms or something, but the server's laying their food down, and there's only so much commitment she has to a role.
"You already got approval?" Jody asks, grabbing her fork.
"I did, from Mr. Artistic Director and everything. Contingent on approval from their returning principal dancer."
Eva can't help the smirk on her face. She wasn't supposed to get a slot in the company in the first place, and now Jonathan's moving his ego aside for her?
"I guess I can make room in my schedule," she says.
"Your role's stepped up recently?" Maureen asks from off-screen.
Juliette Simone's mostly silver hair sets her apart from the red backdrop easily. Her smile is as poised as her posture. "I've always had a large role in the workings of the company, but I've moved away from the students and more toward our major productions."
"How does Jonathan feel about it?"
"Mr. Reeves has always trusted me. I think it's clear that he still does."
"And the rumors about his health?"
Juliette's eyes narrow for a moment before her face relaxes. "It wouldn't be ballet if there weren't rumors about private business, would it?"
"So you don't know?"
"It doesn't matter. It's private." Juliette smiles like she's won. "Would you like to hear more about what the company's plans are this season?"
Eva has her phone in her hand before she realizes not only that it's ringing, but that it's the reason why she woke up. She rubs at her eyes and picks up. "Hello?"
The fog of sleep disappears instantly. Eva hasn't heard that voice in years, but even on the phone, she knows it. "Juliette."
"I'm sorry to call at this hour, but I'm at the hospital. With Jonathan."
Eva sits up halfway. "Jesus. What happened?"
"I don't know anything for certain yet. They won't release information to me, and Kathleen's still on her way." Juliette sighs. "I'm pretty sure he had another stroke. More major this time."
Something twists in Eva's stomach. She rubs her free hand on her thigh for something to do. "I'm sorry. Were you there?"
"The system's been down all day, and we had deadlines to meet. He was sitting in his chair one second, absolutely fine. And the next..."
There's silence on the line. Eva bites her lip for a second, and then she says, "Which hospital? Do you want me to come?"
"No, it's all right. I just wanted you to hear from me." A pause, and then, "We've had contigency plans in place, and from the looks of things, we will have to enact them. Which means I'll be artistic director."
It takes a second for Eva to fill in the blanks. She blames it on the sleep. "So you're telling me in case I want to run again."
"I'm telling you," Juliette says in her classic I'm-so-patient tone, "because your arrival is getting a lot of attention, and this won't help. If you want to return to a guest artist role with another company before we make our announcement—"
"I knew what I was getting into when I moved back to New York." Eva pinches the bridge of her nose. "I'm not going anywhere. Okay?"
There's another few seconds of silence, and then Juliette says quietly, "All right." Her tone gets louder a few moments later. "It looks like Kathleen's arrived. Thank you for speaking with me."
"Oh. Yeah, anytime."
Eva stares at the phone after it's gone dead. She's been doing this long enough to know what Jonathan means in terms of funding and company politics: power shifts means changes in the company, worried donors, extra pressure for the stars. Which she's lucky enough to be, of course. Doesn't mean this isn't going to get tricker for a while.
But instead of doing something about it, or instead of going back to sleep like she could, Eva lies back in bed, stares at the ceiling, and remembers what it felt like to hear Juliette's voice again.
"What do you remember from ABA?"
The camera's on Jody, who smiles in front of the red backdrop. "What don't I remember? I remember you, for one thing."
"What sticks out when you think about ABA?"
"I can't say 'you' again, can I?" Jody sighs. "Maybe it was a long time ago, but...well, I won't say anything that isn't mine to tell, but I remember the girls forced out. I'm lucky that I just heard that I had the wrong body type and bad feet. It didn't stop at words for some dancers."
"Is that why you aren't with ABA now?"
Jody shakes her head and tucks a strand of hair behind her head. "There's a lot that goes into a dancing career. I wasn't best friends with Cooper for a very long time, either, and I know some people that chose to continue working with Jonathan even without a good previous relationship. I don't even know if ABA was ever an option for me. I just know it wasn't what I wanted. And I know that I love a lot of the people still there."
Eva runs into Erik into the hall outside her studio for the day. Literally. She's fiddling with her bun as she walks, runs into someone, says sorry, and finds herself immediately enveloped in a hug. She practically screams with delight as she hugs Erik back and gets a couple disapproving looks from passing staff, but if she toned it down whenever people disapproved, she would never be enthusiastic.
"You never answered my message!" Eva says, tapping Erik's arm playfully as he sets her down. "I wanted you to come to dinner the other night. You missed Maureen throwing herself on my mercy for her documentary."
Erik raises an eyebrow. "Well. I am sorry I missed that."
They talk as they go inside, and Eva tosses her stuff on the floor as she moves to the barre. It's been a long time since she's warmed up in ABA, but she settles into her basic stretches like she never left. It's not like she left dancing, but it should feel different, shouldn't it? Either way, there's nothing like gossip and stretches to start the day.
When Erik puts his own things down and joins her, they chat about Marc, Erik's Broadway star boyfriend. Eva makes Erik promise he'll bring him around, and Erik rolls his eyes and calls her mom, but he seems pleased.
The room hushes when Juliette steps in, and Eva has to grab the barre for balance. Juliette's definitely older - the thought makes Eva rub at her sore hip because Juliette's not the only one - but she's still the same woman she was before Eva left for London, still carries herself with the same grace she had when Eva was a student. She meets Eva's gaze for a moment like she's searching for something, and Eva can't look away. Juliette's the one to break free with a nod like she found what she was looking for.
"Welcome to our new season," Juliette says, voice loud enough that it echoes off the floors. "I'm sure you've all read the Times, and if you haven't, everything about Jonathan's retirement is there. What's more important right now is that we continue his work, and we know he's all missed."
Erik leans into Eva and says in an undertone, "Good to see some ice queens haven't thawed."
Eva chuckles a little, but Erik isn't right. Maybe it's because Eva's seen more sides of Juliette than possibly anyone else in this room, but Eva can see the edges of Juliette's character, the tightness of her mouth that she doesn't have when she's more at ease, the way she's holding her own hands to keep them from shaking. Eva's never seen Juliette more upset.
And like Eva's thoughts conjure something, Juliette takes a breath, looks a little distant, and says in a quieter tone, "If anyone needs to talk at any time, my office door is open. I expect you to use it."
Juliette looks everyone in the room in the eye except Eva. It's kind of a relief. Eva needs to maintain her own composure, and maybe she thought four years overseas would make it easier to be in the same room, but that apparently isn't true. Still, tilting her chin up makes her feel a little better.
"I will see you all again for rehearsals this afternoon," Juliette says in her return-to-business tone. "Thank you."
There's a little commotion as the woman running class today - Eva doesn't recognize her, but she'll know her name before long - tries to settle everyone. Eva uses it to slip in the hallway after Juliette.
Oddly enough, Juliette isn't making her way to her office with a power walk to keep everyone out of her way. She's waiting against the wall not far from the door, and she doesn't look surprised to see Eva outside.
"Did I rouse the masses?" Juliette asks. She looks the same as she always has close up, but she's obviously tired.
Luckily, Eva's used to ignoring how exhausted everyone around her is. "They sound pretty roused. You can see for yourself."
"I'll see this afternoon. I hope the Royal Ballet's been keeping you in shape."
"I guess you'll see this afternoon." Eva smiles. It isn't hard to do. "I know you're probably busy tonight, but do you want to catch up? Get a drink or something, I don't know."
"You're right, I am busy." Juliette gives Eva a look that makes Eva feel about two years old. "I'm going to be busy for the rest of my life, I suspect."
"Oh. Right, yeah. I just thought..."
Juliette sighs. "If you can wait for two weeks, I can probably take some time then. I would like to talk."
Because that didn't sound ominous. Whatever, Eva's got her victory, and she's going to run with it. "Great. See you around."
The look Juliette levels is exactly the kind of thing that's always done it for Eva: knowing, a little superior, and extremely competent. Eva swallows down the butterflies that hit and, with a little nod, dashes back into the classroom.
Background noise noise plays - a piano in the background, the thumping of Eva's feet on the floor - but when the dancing stops and Juliette rises from her chair to talk with Eva, there's no audio. Eva's sweaty and breathing hard, but there's an intensity to her gaze, and she nods a couple times without breaking eye contact with Juliette.
Maureen asks over the footage, "How's your time back going? Fitting in well?"
"As well as anyone can at my age," Eva's voice replies.
"Oh, please. You're dancing circles around women a decade younger than you."
Eva laughs. "Long may it last."
"How's the company under Juliette's leadership?"
"Different. Different for sure. But everyone's familiar with Juliette, and she's a great leader. There really couldn't be anyone better at a time like this."
In the footage, Juliette's pointing all over the classroom, but Eva's watching her face. It's a split second, and then Eva's trying a move in the direction Juliette pointed like nothing happened.
Eva's working late. She's not the only ones. Her initial costume fitting was after 7 pm on a Tuesday night the week before - a Tuesday as far from performances as she probably gets - and the line outside the physical therapists' office when she left the fitting was still long enough that people were sitting on the floor and reading their phones while they stretched.
Tonight, she and Erik were working together. They have a pas de deux in a showcase about a month before Giselle opens, so they have to rehearse in their off hours, and as exhausting as it is, Eva's got a smile on her face. Time's only made Erik better, even if his old injury's still bothering him, and it's good to work with someone who knows her so well. Some of the lifts made Erik's hands feel more like an extension of Eva's body than a clumsy intrusion, and that's only in rehearsal.
And then Erik's boyfriend came in, and Erik's focus had gone out the window, but Eva will take what she can get. Especially because she got to grill the new guy.
Most everyone's gone when Eva's out of the showers, but she passes by the artistic director's office, and sure enough, Juliette's light is on. The walls around the office's waiting room are glass, and the door to Juliette's office is open, so it's not hard to see Juliette on the phone and tapping at something on her desk with a finger. It's not late for her job; Eva's seen Jonathan work in the middle of the night plenty of times. But Eva never found herself hesitating in front of the door when Jonathan was there.
Juliette looks up. Eva bites her lip and waves. Juliette watches her steadily as she continues talking on the phone, and maybe Eva should nod at the door or Juliette should wave her in, but Eva feels good behind the glass. She gets a minute to watch, a minute where Juliette knows she's there, and there's no expectation beyond it. Maybe Juliette feels the same. She probably doesn't need a minute to compose herself.
No one gives visible signals - at least, Eva doesn't think she does - so when Juliette hangs up the phone, Eva lets herself in.
"I'm surprised it took you this long to collect on your drink." Juliette sighs and rubs a hand over her face. "Have a seat."
It should feel like Eva's being brought to task again; she's gotten many a lecture in this office. But the darkness outside, the warming edge of a heater, and the golden lamps make the place less intimidating at night. Eva perches on the sofa and feels probably more at home than she does in her apartment as Juliette goes for a little bar tucked to the side.
Juliette doesn't have the remnants of her ballet posture today. She hands Eva her drink, sits on the other side of the sofa, and reclines a little. Well. Reclines for her, anyway. Her drapey dress doesn't really lend to a full couch sprawl.
Eva holds up the drink in salute and downs some of it. It's some kind of vodka mix, a bit of burn down her throat and bitter on her tongue.
"I had visitors from the Bolshoi last week," Juliette says. "Always helps to have the good vodka on hand."
"No shit," Eva says, purposely bulging out her eyes in reaction. "Damn."
They talk shop for a minute. Juliette starts it, asking if the assistant choreographer that Eva had to chew out last week for being underprepared has gotten his act together. Eva's happy for the extra time to just enjoy sitting here. She isn't on display, isn't anyone but herself.
Still, the beat before Juliette changes the subject does feel almost timed in.
"Why did you kiss me?" Juliette finally says, maybe a half hour after Eva first comes in, and then she raises a hand right away. "No, I know. I should be asking why you left."
Eva wants to say she's sorry. She wants to explain, but the words don't come out. Honestly, now that she's here, she knows there's no way she could put it into words. What she can do is finish what's in her glass, mostly neglected after her first couple sips, and stand.
"Maybe you should ask why I came back." She leaves the glass on the side table. "Thanks for the drink."
Erik lifts Eva at rehearsal, and he sets her down again. They're both covered in sweat, and they smile sweetly as they perform their steps, but the second the music stops and they walk forward to talk to Juliette, who's sitting in front of the mirrors, their faces drop into exhaustion. Eva takes an offered towel and wipes sweat off her face as she nods for whatever Juliette's saying - her voice is an indistinct hum - and Erik's listening with hands on his hips.
Maureen asks over the footage, "What are you thinking about most in terms of your career right now?"
There's a cut to Erik in front of the red backdrop. "What comes after, I guess. After this part. I used to think that not being able to dance anymore would mean the end until I had my first major injury as a student."
"How did your thinking change?"
"I realized that this isn't going away for a while." Erik taps his temple. "Yeah, I'm older, and that injury flares up, and my career onstage is winding down. But there's so much more, and I can't wait to try it all out."
Dress rehearsals are like they always are: long, tiring, and completely fucking useless. Okay, Eva knows they have a point: she's been in productions where everything's been a mess to the end, and she's gone on stage with pretty much no prep, so having a solid week of well-staged dress rehearsals means she's going to be pretty much flawless when the curtain goes up.
But god. Getting to opening night without strangling someone with the ribbons on her toe shoes is always a goddamn miracle.
The last rehearsal day's a soft performance; Juliette and her team follow the ABA tradition of giving tickets to donors and ABA staff, and minus a couple of technical tweaks that eat up a little time, the show runs like it will on opening night. Eva dances well, and she knows it even before she sees Juliette smiling in the wings.
She takes that energy for what Maureen says is her final interview. Eva's also used to faking it for press, but she's been pretty genuine this time around, and she hopes that shows in the final product. Especially because it means she's done in the theater way later than pretty much everyone else the day before opening night.
And by "pretty much everyone else", it means "everyone but Juliette", who's talking quietly on a cell phone while sitting front row in the theater. It was the same place she gave her last notes/pep talk an hour or two before. Eva was backstage for the documentary interview, but she could hear the soft tones of Juliette's voice when she walked away from the crew packing up. She could have walked away from Juliette, too. They're at an understanding now, Eva thinks. No hard feelings, no need to pursue.
But that's not why Eva came back.
Eva walks on the stage, moves around the set pieces still there, and sits on the edge. Juliette follows Eva almost immediately with her eyes, but she continues her conversation, something about costume backups for the chorus, until she's done.
When Juliette hangs up, she sets her phone in her lap and asks Eva, "Shouldn't you be getting sleep?"
"Please." Eva shakes her head. "Like I ever sleep before opening night."
Juliette huffs an understanding laugh.
"Is it worth it?" Eva asks, nodding at Juliette's phone. "You can't be sleeping better than you were. Or have a life."
"This is my life."
It's Eva's turn to have a slightly weary laugh. Her gaze drops to her laugh. "You said you know why I left. But do you really?"
"No, I just." Eva breathes and brings herself up. "I knew I felt...something when I looked at you. But it wasn't until I kissed you that I really got it, you know?"
She keeps talking, something about whatever part of herself she'd never confronted before, but her head's on that day.
It was after a performance of Swan Lake, back when Eva had only been a principal for a couple years, and...Eva can't even remember what they'd been talking about. But she remembers getting it, for the first time ever. She remembers Juliette kissing her back and looking completely shocked when Eva pulled away. Eva had wanted to laugh at the time. She'd broken through the facade, and she'd only had to kiss Juliette to do it.
And then horror had swept in. Even though Juliette called after her to stop her, Eva had run. She hadn't lasted a full week after that before accepting the Royal Ballet's guest offer, and after a couple weeks more, she'd been gone.
She stops talking at some point, and Juliette's looking thoughtful. "Why did you come back?" Juliette asks.
Eva gets up. It's not a rush reaction, like last time; Juliette can see her coming, and Eva's thought about this almost every day since she left. The theater's quiet - no crowds murmuring, no applause, no orchestra - but Eva hears the blood rushing in her head as she crouches to Juliette's level, and it's as good as a crescendo.
Juliette closes the distance first, and their lips come together.
"I wish you hadn't left," Juliette whispers when they pull back and stare at each other.
"Yeah," Eva whispers back, and she kisses her again.
Juliette's place is closer to ABA, but Eva's is closer to the theater, and that's where they're going to be later, so Eva takes her there on the subway, holding her hand like Juliette was the one to run.
They're completely dignified on their arrival in. Eva puts her things away without fuss while Juliette compliments her wall-sized windows. Eva offers Juliette a glass of wine, and Juliette turns her down.
And then they start kissing.
There were always the old stories of Juliette's origins back in school. Juliette Simon rising from the ashes of Julie Simon. Back then, it had made Eva set her teeth; of course an imperfect, ugly origin would have to be concealed. But now Eva gets it, even if she doesn't entirely agree. Juliette is beautiful, elegant steel, the steel made all the more beautiful in a place powdered and smoothed. She tames her passion to use it all the better.
Eva feels every part of that passion as Juliette presses her into the mattress. Or no, she'd gotten that out of their first kiss. This time, as Eva's running her fingers in Juliette's hair and arching into her touch, there's the rush that comes from doing exactly what she wants. Juliette wants the containment to keep herself together. Eva needs permission to be free.
Which is probably why Juliette's the one to pull back. Eva can see her own past reflected in Juliette's eyes, a bit of hesitance as she's perched over Eva.
Luckily, Eva knows exactly what to do. She flips Juliette over and takes charge. That's how it has to be this time. She has to show Juliette that she's here to stay.
When they're done, falling asleep in each other's arms and smiling at each other, Eva's pretty sure she's managed it.
Maureen asks, from her usual place off-camera, "Now that you've spent some time back in the company, how do you see your future?"
"Immediate or long-term?" Eva, looking a little tired and sweaty but generally put together after her last dress rehearsal, grins.
"A little." Eva counts off on her fingers. "I have my contract at ABA that I'm going to fill while I'm able, there's a couple side projects I'll probably take up in between seasons, I've got some teaching offers for whenever I retire or if an injury takes me out, I've got some hobbies I want to pick up whenever I get more time..." She holds out her hands as if to show them empty. "But there's only one thing I'm actively thinking about right now, and it isn't dance."
"What is it?"
"Some things aren't for the stage." Eva grins, looking directly into the camera. "Or the camera."
She jumps up and covers the lens with a hand, and both Maureen and Eva laugh in the background.
Juliette gives her big pep talk on the stage, just like Jonathan used to...okay, like every choreographer Eva's worked with, but every time she was in Lincoln Center, it was Jonathan with his upturned nose and not-at-all peppy pep talks. But Juliette kissing the air beside her and saying "merde" is exactly as it's always been.
Well. Maybe the split second where Juliette's hand lingered on Eva's shoulder is different. And the smile that Eva's trying to keep to herself. But those are good differences.
Juliette leaves for the audience, and Eva's in the wings when the curtain rises. She's not due onstage for a while, but it's one of her opening night traditions. Superstitions. Whatever. She's holding Erik's hand and watching one of the other male principal dancers take the stage.
"I'm glad you're back," Erik whispers under the swell of music.
Eva grins at him, and she turns in the direction of the audience. She can't see them, of course - the old "if you can see them, they can see you" habit will be forever ingrained in her - but she knows exactly where Juliette is sitting, and Eva knows it'll feel like the show is just for the two of them.
"Me too," Eva whispers.