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Once she realized that by leaning forward she wasn't actually making the cab go any faster, Kelly sank back into the worn upholstery with a heavy sigh. She even allowed her head to tip back against the seat without thinking about God-knows-what that had touched the same spot in the hours and weeks before. She was only thinking about getting there on time. Or was it in time? Chuckling softly, she reminded her inner taskmaster that this wasn't really an appointment she was keeping. Or trying to keep. Damn the Kowalski deposition for running so late! It had been an awkward moment when she'd had to come up with a reason not to share a cab with Hector back to the office. Her murmured explanation about having errands to run was probably not all that convincing. It certainly didn't help that she was terrible at lying or bluffing in general ... and was a tad more flustered than usual considering the reason she wanted to be on her own.
Closing her eyes and exhaling deeply, she conceded that the privacy she was seeking was more than a little ironic. With a slight grimace, she floated the idea that she could just turn around and head back to the office if she was going to feel so guilty about the whole thing. But she didn't speak up or make a move to get the driver's attention. There was no way she was going to talk herself out of it now, even though her heart was racing. Some of that was adrenaline, a twinge of daredevil impulse. Maybe she was so intent because her heart was racing. She felt her cheeks flush warm and opened her eyes to get her bearings.
Before the driver could pull up to the curb, she was already sliding across to the other door, thrusting a handful of bills through the small opening in the Plexiglas. Somehow managing to wait until the car came to a full stop, she threw a quick 'thanks' over her shoulder and bolted out onto the sidewalk. As she moved toward the building with a glance at her watch, she breathed another 'thank-you' to whomever she should be grateful to that she'd made it.
The first time had occurred only by chance. Coincidence. A literal collision of fate. The messenger who was trying to track Tracey down had run headlong into Kelly in the lobby. The ugly bruise on her upper arm was long forgotten, the flash of irritation immediately dashed away by her concern for the young man's own injury. He had fallen awkwardly and broken his wrist, requiring immediate medical attention. She'd insisted on taking the package to Tracey herself -- to the unfamiliar address he'd been given in the office upstairs -- despite the fact that the accident had been his fault. She hadn't wanted him to get into trouble, and besides, Tracey might really need whatever he'd been delivering. It had honestly been that simple.
She'd had a perfectly good explanation for showing up here then. This visit, however, was deliberate and admittedly intrusive. Pausing in front of the door she'd knocked on so enthusiastically the last time, she took a calming breath. This was her chance to call it off, to flee without the possibility of being discovered. She weighed her options ... deciding rather quickly that she wanted to go in far more than she wanted to go back.
Smiling at how the faded words on the nondescript plaque to the right of the entryway had puzzled her previously, she tugged softly on the handle and stepped inside. The Sperling Studio didn't lock the front door during office hours, a detail that spared her the well-rehearsed excuse she'd prepared for elderly Mrs. Sperling -- who'd so sweetly greeted her before -- but caused her no small amount of concern for the security of the premises. She'd find a way to mention that and encourage them to take greater precautions. After all, anybody could just walk in off the street. Like she had just done. God.
Kelly felt like she was taking a step back in time as she moved down the hallway. She'd be willing to bet that nothing had changed inside the Sperling Studio in the last 30 years except the postings on the overcrowded bulletin board. Absently, she wondered if there were any younger Sperlings who would take over and continue the family business or if this was the studio's last act. She could pick up the awkward sounds of a piano lesson in progress nearby, and farther down to her left, the faint music that signaled her destination. The classical strains grew louder as she passed the door to room number eight. Her heart skipped in apprehension as she imagined what would happen were it suddenly to open, leaving her stranded there without cover or excuse. She quickened her pace until she could slip safely around the corner, almost laughing in relief even as she chastised herself for blowing her anxiety out of proportion. She might be treading on shaky ground, but it wasn't an actual mine field.
Still, her hand trembled slightly as she opened the unmarked door that had been her goal all along. When she'd followed Mrs. Sperling in here on her substitute messenger run, she had originally been more fascinated by its presence than its purpose -- or its promise. It was as much a storage room as anything else, a glorified closet, although quite large considering. Remarkably, there was space to move around comfortably, and a small sitting area that might have doubled as a study or quiet place to take a break. A crooked floor lamp shone weakly on that portion of the room and she was grateful that she didn't have to feel her way toward the chair she was seeking.
The most striking feature of the room wasn't really inside the room itself. One entire wall was taken up by a two-way mirror, opening up a full view of the room she'd just passed. The main dance studio. Mrs. Sperling had explained that it was often the best way for parents to watch a child practice or perform, without interference, without intimidation, without inducing self-consciousness. Kelly had assumed it was also a way for the teachers and others to monitor classes and practices without alerting the students. Although she was sure the room and its utility were not a secret to those who danced on the other side, she was also fairly sure that it was easy enough to ignore or forget its existence. Something she had not been able to do.
The diminutive owner had ushered her to this place then to wait until Tracey had finished her session. Not wanting to interrupt or intrude, Kelly had meant to respond that she could just leave the package ... but once she caught a glimpse of Tracey through the glass, she'd been too stunned to speak. She'd watched motionless, entranced, until Mr. Sperling had shuffled through to locate some sheet music, breaking the spell. Hastily she'd withdrawn, imploring the older gentlemen to make sure that Tracey received the large envelope she'd left on the table. It wasn't until she'd nearly reached her apartment that she bothered to examine why she'd fled so childishly. She'd been there on official business. Tracey herself had left the address of where she could be reached. So why had she been so desperate to get away without being spotted?
Because she hadn't known anything about the ballet studio. She wasn't the one who'd been given the just-in-case location. It would have been relatively easy for Tracey to indicate where she was going to be, especially since Kelly had since discovered it was somewhat of a regular routine. A small "B" in her datebook and her desk calendar. Finding out by accident made it worse somehow. And even though she wanted nothing more than to watch Tracey dance until she had seen every last step, to tell her how impressed she'd been ... she'd had the sudden and distinct feeling that she was an uninvited guest. She'd been embarrassed to acknowledge how hurt she was that Tracey hadn't shared any part of this with her. The thought of facing Tracey's irritation at her surprise appearance would have been too much to bear.
But she couldn't put it out of her mind, the image of Tracey dancing. So relaxed and focused and free at the same time. So graceful and elegant. The vision had been altogether too fleeting. No matter how hard she tried to capture and save it in her memory, it wasn't enough. Little by little her obsession with attending a repeat performance began to overtake her prior disappointment, her professionalism, and finally her good sense. Almost without realizing it, she'd devised a plan of how she could get back to the best seat in the house. At first she'd assured herself it was just a fantasy, that she'd never actually go through with it. That she'd suck it up and mind her own business. And yet, here she was.
It was worth it. Whatever happened from this point on, she could console herself with the knowledge that it was all worth it. Yes, she was probably certifiable, but she wouldn't have missed this for the world. Tracey was incredible. Even more striking was the transformation. Her unguarded expression, how she glowed ... not to mention the way she moved. The skill and power and command she possessed. Kelly was enthralled and awed. She knew the analogy was a total cliché, but she was drawn toward the mirror like a moth to a flame, hardly aware of her own motion. She barely knew a plie from a pirouette, but she knew she wanted to be closer. On the other side, Tracey danced toward the mirror, stopping just in front of it ... holding her last position, breathing hard from the exertion, but clearly pleased with the result. A slow smile spread across her face and Kelly nearly melted.
In fact she was a little light-headed. She was about to sit down again when Tracey approached the barre. Transfixed, Kelly watched her grasp it and begin to stretch, twist and bend. They were literally only inches apart, despite the glass. She couldn't feel her own legs as she watched Tracey lift one of hers and balance it on the smooth wood. She could see every spectacularly defined muscle, every curve and line, as Tracey pointed her toes and reached for her ankle. She was so damn beautiful. Kelly's hand fluttered up, hovering as if she could touch ... pierce the illusion ... finally resting against the cold surface in defeat, the temperature there a stark contrast to the warmth consuming the rest of her body.
If she had walked in on anyone else in this situation, doing this same thing, she would have considered them a perv. She knew she should feel ashamed of herself, but she didn't, couldn't. She hadn't come to drool over Tracey's relative state of undress, although she certainly appreciated it. Despite her inability to articulate her motives, she knew she was attracted to much more than the physical attributes before her. It was the intimacy of actually seeing Tracey in her element, her soul exposed. The raw energy that fueled her, the obvious passion. Experiencing it in person, the purity of it, made her ache. And jealous. That she didn't have something that consumed her to the same degree. Looking through the mirror as she slowly retreated, it dawned on her that maybe she did.
As she moved down the hall, Tracey unwound the slip of material she'd used to tie her hair back. She'd thrown half of her clothes on over her leotard and the rest were in the duffle slung loosely over her shoulder. Poking her head into the third room she'd passed, she found Mrs. Sperling cleaning an old chalkboard, wiping away musical notes and stanzas. "I'm leaving now, Ethel ... make sure you lock the door behind me."
Before the older woman even turned toward her, Tracey heard her "tsk, tsk" under her breath. "You think I don't listen, but I do." She waved her hand in a fondly dismissive manner. "Run along now, little one."
Tracey smirked at the endearment. She was at least 6 inches taller than Ethel. If not more. She was about to return the "compliment" when Mrs. Sperling spoke again.
"Oh, I almost forgot." She smiled up at Tracey. "Your pretty blonde friend was here again today." Seeing the confused expression on Tracey's face, she added. "But no package this time. Just her. No reason." She went back to the blackboard, effectively ending the conversation. "Didn't speak to us this day ... me or Irving."
What the hell? Had Kelly needed something? As she made her way down the street, Tracey was truly baffled. First Kelly dropped off an important document delivery without waiting to discuss the contents -- and didn't even bother to ask about it after the fact either, which wasn't like her at all. She was innately curious. And always going the extra mile on their cases. And now ... she'd come down here for a reason, even if she hadn't felt comfortable sharing it with the Sperlings. But she'd left, disappeared, vanished.
The more she walked, the more concerned Tracey became. Was something wrong? She knew that she was often wrapped up in her own world, too far inside her own head, but she thought she was more in tune with her partner. Had she missed something important? She wracked her brain. Kelly had seemed distracted of late.
She fished around in her bag for her phone, then stopped herself. If Kelly had wanted to talk about it tonight, she would have hung around until Tracey was done. Damn it. Tracey Kibre wasn't a patient person. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she made a decision. She'd insist on taking Kelly to lunch tomorrow and get to the bottom of whatever was going on, clear the air. She didn't like it when things between them were muddled or vague. Hell, she didn't like things between them, period. She much preferred things open, transparent. And she wasn't going to take "no" for an answer, or let anything stand in her way.
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