To Edwin and Eugene, years of friendship and a lifetime of love.
I’M NOT A good man.
I’m not a bad man.
But I made some bad mistakes, made the wrong choices. Who hasn’t? But the consequences are tearing us apart.
I love two people.
I love them differently.
The world tells me I have to choose. Why?
Why do I have to choose?
Love hurts. Love flays you raw and leaves your skin hanging from your body in bloody strips. It brands and burns you. Ultimately, love is the worst thing that can happen to a human being.
In my opinion.
I loved two people.
I loved them differently.
One was a man.
One was a woman.
And I never wanted to hurt anyone, least of all the two people who mean more to me than anyone else in the world.
Love isn’t supposed to be that hard.
It started with a note.
There was no reason on earth for me to think that this short message would change my life. Or fuck it up. Depending on your point of view.
But it did.
Twenty-four hours earlier . . .
IT WAS OUR final performance.
We gathered together holding hands, trying to make a rough circle in the cramped backstage area of the London theater.
Ash looked at each one of us, his eyes shimmering with pride and unshed tears.
“It’s been an honor and a privilege working with you. You have brought Slave to life. We’ve made people think, and we’ve made them feel. Thank you.”
He glanced down at his wife, Laney, who was watching him, her eyes full of warmth and love.
Seeing them together was a lesson in possibilities: Ash so strong, so athletic, an amazing dancer; Laney strong in different ways, a steel flower trapped in her wheelchair.
“This is our last night together for now. But then we’ll be preparing for a new tour next year.”
He paused, his eyes sweeping across Yveta’s face. We all knew that the months away from the show would give her time to recover from the plastic surgery that she needed. The operation would smooth out the jagged scar running down the side of her face, a vicious reminder of being tortured by the Russian mafia.
I’d seen Ash’s scars, too. We all had.
He could have re-cast her role and carried on touring, but he would never do that.
I squeezed Yveta’s hand. She inclined her head to acknowledge me, but wouldn’t meet my eyes.
Ash smiled, his gaze touching each one of us.
“You are moja družina—my family.”
He took a deep breath.
“And now . . . we dance like the world is watching.”
Sarah gripped my other hand tightly, peeking up at me before she glared at Ash.
“Bloody hell, Ash! If you’ve made my mascara run, I’m so kicking your arse!”
Her complaint broke the emotion-fueled moment, and we all laughed.
“Two minutes to curtain,” called out the stage manager.
We all hustled to take our places for the first number, and Ash walked with Laney as she wheeled herself to a spot where she could watch from the wings.
I felt a shiver of anticipation skitter across my skin.
“God, I’ll never get enough of this,” whispered Sarah. “I hate it and I love it.”
I knew exactly what she meant. The nerves never really stopped, but the second I stepped on stage, adrenaline and muscle memory took over. My body would respond before my brain felt the fear, the heightened awareness of dancing in front of a thousand strangers.
I could hear the audience, hear their breaths, feel their excitement, feel the heat rolling forward from the press of bodies.
And then the houselights sank and the theater dropped into darkness, the electricity of expectancy lighting a fuse.
Down in the orchestra pit, the band waited, the small lights attached to their music stands throwing their faces into deep shadow. Al, the conductor, tapped his baton, and there was a collective breath as they prepared to play, fingers hovering above keys and strings, the drummer poised, tension in his arms.
Then the music blasted out in an explosion of sound and light, and I was on stage, alive, powerful, doing what I was born to do.
I became the role, I lived the dance, blood pounding through my veins, my muscles coiled and released as I lunged and leapt, my arms sweeping through the space around me, filling it with spirals of strength and emotion.
Nothing could beat this feeling, this intensity, this desire to drink from the well of life.
And it was magnificent.
For a split second, I caught Ash’s eye, and we shared something that only another dancer can understand—a connection, an emotion so fleeting, I could have dreamed it.
I feel it too, brother.
Two hours later, we stood bathed in sweat under the bright stage lights, smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes, soaking up applause as the crowd rose to their feet, cheers and whistles soaring above the roar. My chest heaved from the exertion, but also from the deep emotion that dancing always brought to me, and I knew that everyone on this stage felt the exact same way.
Sarah stood next to me, tears running down her face, happy tears; tears of achievement and joy; tears of satisfaction and sorrow that it was all over. The end of a performance was a birth—the memories of the audience would live on—and a death, too, as another show ended. So tonight, we were celebrating and grieving.
“I’m going to miss this so fucking much,” she sobbed, staring up at me, then out at the cheering crowd. “God, I’m going to miss you, Luka, you bloody great hunk of sexy Slovenian.”
“I’ll miss you too, buča,” I said sincerely, leaning down to kiss her cheek, tasting the salt of her tears.
All the dancers linked hands, raising our arms in the air as we took our final bow. Ash stepped forward, looking down at the band in the pit and applauding them, too. Then he clasped his hands together and pressed them to his heart, before waving to the audience and leaving the stage.
Yveta, Gary and Oliver stepped forward with me and Sarah to take our bows as co-leads, then we too left the stage.
And it was all over.
The applause drained away as the curtain fell for the last time and the house lights came up.
Then it was the slow descent to normalcy as we peeled away the roles we’d played, along with our costumes, wigs and makeup. And in my case, the weird yellow contact lenses that gave me a wolf-like appearance.