Kate accepts. She goes to Amsterdam with Marius. Her passport photo is over four years old and in it, the girl’s face isn’t smiling. She had rubbed a thumb over that face while she waited in the security line at JFK, as if for luck.
When she is in Amsterdam, she gets emails from Gwen with phrases like, “I’m doing so well,” and, “you’d be so proud.” Kate doesn’t know what to do with that. Kate still doesn’t know what to do with a lot of things and a lot of people.
Kate wears red Chanel lipstick to class, her hair pulled back tight and severe. She wears all black and too much perfume – violet and sandalwood and overpowering. She likes that. She imagines leaving that scent behind, herself like a ghost, filling the room, dancing unseen among all these strange girls and their strange strong capable bodies.
She knows what the girls think of her. The nattering gossip that ceases when she enters the studio is strong as any physical presence. They think she is sleeping with Marius.
The red lips, the strong shoulders, long arrogant neck, the way she stalks the bank of mirrors at the front of the room watching them – she’d think the same thing, too.
When Kate left New York, there were three things that were vitally important.
The first: she would fly into Amsterdam alone.
The second: she would only pack one suitcase and in it would be packed only her clothes and only her belongings.
And the third: she would not sleep with Marius.
She manages two out of three.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
The first time Marius and Kate sleep together there is something almost elegant about it, their two bodies working both together and against each other. There is that tension he is always striving to capture on stage with his dancers, with bodies other than his own.
Eventually all that grace slips away and all that’s left is force and focus, him and her.
“I’m glad you’re here,” is what he said to her after he shut the door. She did not sit and neither did he and instead the both of them stood, primed as if there was a routine waiting for them and someone, somewhere, was counting down for them to begin.
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“Good,” she said. She didn’t know why she said it, but it was good, she thought. That made him smile, closed-mouth and knowing, and then he kissed her.
The first time they have sex, they fuck in front of his hotel room window, him behind her, one hand holding her head up, the canal inky and dark below them.
It’s like being in the studio, dancing in front of the mirrors. She catches the reflection of her face and she thinks, this isn’t me. The girl in the window looks nothing like her: the parted lips, lidded eyes, she looks like a girl a man would be glad to have here. She moans, watching herself, watching herself with him, surprised by the lack of embarrassment for it – for the watching, for the wanting. There is a low sound from him behind her, like approval, and his hands tighten on her body.
He holds her like a thing worth keeping.
“Come see me after,” he had said, and she had, gone up to his hotel room, but her lipstick had faded and her usual armor was gone, and when he opened the door she had stepped through and when he touched her she realized that had been what she had wanted, been waiting, to happen after all.
The only Dutch she learns is from riding the bus – de volgende halte is. The next stop is.
She recites it to herself at night when she can’t sleep. She changes the inflection at the end, robs it of its assertion and makes it a question. De volgende halte is? The next stop is?
She doesn’t sleep well most nights. The bed’s too soft and it makes her back ache. She rolls from side to side.
The next stop is? The next stop is?
Kate gains a little weight, a little color in her face. She doesn’t know what’s considered Dutch cuisine – beer? – but she eats croissants some mornings and the coffee she drinks is thick, the French fries she buys from street vendors salty and too hot. She can’t eat them if they cool even a little so she scarfs them down burning hot while the paper cup sweats grease in her hand.
Mara had given her three travel books before she left. The Heineken Brewery and the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh museum – Kate doesn’t do any of these things. She watches the girls dance and she stretches in front of the mirror and she drinks her coffee and eats her fries and she rides the bus and walks the canals. She writes emails in reply to Gwen and if the language she uses is vague Gwen doesn’t say anything and she meets Marius for dinner and she lets her body learn his body and she exists.
“I’m glad,” Kate writes in reply to Gwen. And she is. She is very glad.
“I had an idea,” Kate tells Marius, but it is actually Wendy’s idea. The summer is ending, and soon Amsterdam will be a place behind her and New York will be before her.
“I always thought that could make an interesting ballet,” Wendy had said. Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Ariadne and her ball of string so he could follow the thread out of the labyrinth.
“Can you imagine dancing that?” Kate says. A labyrinth, following a length of string down and along the stage.
Marius is watching her, like she is still capable of surprise.
“Theseus, the Minotaur, and Ariadne.”
There is heat in his gaze as he considers it but she finds that familiar. She finds him familiar.
“We can talk further when we get home,” he says.
Home. Kate pictures Theseus dancing, the light in Wendy’s apartment, a labyrinth. She thinks of the thread – a clue, Wendy had said. Towards what, she doesn’t know. The next stop is. The next stop is. The next stop is.
She thinks of following it – the thread, a clue – wherever it goes. She will follow it. She imagines New York; she imagines Marius’s hand at the small of her back.