Courtney Carlyle was only happy when she was alone in her room. Behind her closed door, she’d put in her headphones, close her eyes, and dance. She moved her body without fear or worry, far away from the skinny girls at school who told Courtney she was no good at dancing, who told her to stop, who made her quit the classes she’d enjoyed as a girl. Courtney knew she wasn’t a skilled dancer, but alone in her room she didn’t have to be. She floated on joy and solitude, lost in the pop music, eyes squeezed close.
But this night she opened them and locked eyes with a man in the house next door, a young man she’d never seen before. An undeniably hot man in his mid-twenties who’d just moved in and had seen her flailing.
She froze, mortified.
He smiled at her. He applauded. He gave her a thumbs up.
She felt safe. Like somehow they already knew each other. She smiled back at him, then shook her shoulders, moved her hips. He gave her an okay sign with his hand.
She laughed and blushed, then waved goodbye and closed her blinds. She fell back onto her bed, allowing herself to run wild with this silly schoolgirl fantasy.
At school, Courtney’s crush grew. She couldn’t stop thinking about her neighbor, and the dream life she invented — dancing with him on a beach, touching feet under a blanket — made the miserable school day bearable. She knew it was meaningless and unreal, surely inappropriate, but she let herself have it.
That night, she danced, and he arrived in the window again. He mirrored her moves. Together, for nearly an hour, she taught him one move after another without saying a word.
She fell asleep telling herself this wasn’t love, this couldn’t be love. But that word was the only one in her head.
When the final bell rang at school, Courtney gathered her books from her locker and walked past the gym. She looked in the open door and saw him, standing in the center of the basketball court. Her heart raced. Had he come to pick her up?
He pressed a button on a boombox and pop music played and he danced, eyes closed and serious, performing every move she’d taught him the night before.
Courtney stepped into the gym and saw the sign: FRANKIE FOSTER’S LOS ANGELES DANCE CLINIC. Three hundred girls packed the bleachers, ogling Frankie, gasping and blushing and cheering for him as he did Courtney’s moves, dressed in an all-leather outfit, a rock-and-roll black jacket covered in severe metal studs and sharp medallions.
For once, Courtney didn’t feel meek in front of the other girls. She approached the bleachers and took a seat in the center of the front row. She smiled at Frankie, and then she whispered to Trudy Thompson, the meanest girl in school, “I taught him this routine.” Trudy rolled her eyes and told Courtney to stop lying, but Courtney knew her moment had finally come.
Frankie finished dancing, and the crowd went wild. He asked if anyone had any questions for him. Girls asked about his life in Los Angeles, his experiences dancing for Jennifer Lopez and Dua Lipa, and his cool jacket, covered in all those pointy accessories.
Courtney waited for her turn, and finally Frankie called on her. “Hey,” she said, casually. “Would you be able to, maybe, tell everyone here where you learned those cool moves? Who taught them to you?” She winked at him. “Maybe a cool girl you saw through a window?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I’m a professional choreographer,” he said. “I created this routine myself. That’s my job and I take it seriously. I’d never steal anyone’s moves.”
“But,” Courtney said, struggling to breathe. “You, um, didn’t you watch…” She felt dizzy, like she’d been punched.
“I have no idea what she’s talking about,” Frankie said, and the other girls laughed. “Maybe you should go see the nurse, get your head checked out about these schizophrenic visions of girls in windows.”
The other girls howled, and Courtney ran out of the gym.
That night, Courtney sobbed in her room until she heard a tapping noise. She looked up and saw Frankie in the window. “Sorry,” he mouthed. He found a sheet of paper, wrote on it, and held it up: HAVE TO MAINTAIN REPUTATION AS CREATOR OF MOVES. WHOLE CAREER RUINED IF I CREDIT YOU. UNDERSTAND? ARE WE OKAY?
Courtney thought it over for a minute, knowing she should stand up for herself and tell him his actions were unacceptable. She looked back at him and nodded. “We’re okay,” she mouthed. He smiled. She said, “Want to dance?” and he nodded.
Courtney put her headphones in and for hours she led Frankie Foster in another lesson, inventing a new routine for him. She lost herself again, letting go from the stress of the day, and she showed him a new move: right hand to left shoulder, pulled fast across the body back to the right side. Over and over they did the move together until it was slick and natural and easy.
After school the next day, Courtney arrived early to the dance clinic and she sat in the back, a hat pulled low on her head. The bleachers filled and the girls bounced with electric energy when Frankie arrived, wearing his signature jacket pocked with all those sharp metal details.
He pressed play on the boombox, counted himself in, and launched into Courtney’s routine: reaching his right hand to his left shoulder, where he gripped one of those metal studs, and then he whipped it hard across his neck in rhythm to the beat, slashing open his neck.
The girls shrieked as Frankie’s throat gushed red blood, and his dead body dropped limp onto the floor.
Pandemonium broke out while the boombox kept playing, and in the center of all that mayhem, Courtney Carlyle rose from the bleachers, threw her hat to the side, and stood at center-court, dancing for the first time in front of all those girls, giving each move her all as she stood over Frankie’s body, feeling pure and alive and free.