"What is dancing, Lilith?" A microphone was held against the child's lips, blameless and naive and unknowing of the world's secrets. The girl hesitated.
"Dancing is... happiness."
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" the lady asked, bright red lipstick looking daunting, showcasing bared white teeth. Lilith itched in her chair. But back then, tight dresses felt better.
"A choreographer," she declared after a moment, beaming - it's what they all expected, after all. Lilith Welsh, child prodigy. Acclaimed dancer.
Now, self-deemed future choreographer. It's what's expected.
But not what is given.
Lilith Welsh is washed-up and burnt-out and tired.
What is dancing to her? Dancing is knowing you could be better; trapped movements; a burden. Dancing is her confinement and her chore.
"Oh, sweet, sweet, Lilith. Nation's angel. Dance is your destiny," they tell her. And she believed it, once. She still has that mask on.
One night, she confesses to Isabella. Not even she knows what to tell her, but her presence is by far the brightest in a sea of black and white. Isabella asks her what she wants now.
"Something but dance, something but dance," is her answer. She has no ideas, no words, nothing to give. Isabella's expression is one of pity.
"Oh, Lilith. You have something to give. I'm sorry that everyone wants the one thing you can't provide anymore," she says, and Lilith tells her to stop apologizing. Like all nights, this one is quiet.
"You are made to dance."
Lilith wishes she had the courage to defy her mother. But it's comeback day, a new beginning for her. Everything is transitioning around her, preparing for the comeback, for her, but something about it is dead.
Maybe it is her. The word Lilith means ghost, after all.
Lilith Welsh is back, she reads from the headline of a newspaper article. She sees a reporter talking to her manager, and knows that she can't go back now. Summoning the remnants of her broken passion for moving, she dons a smile as the reporter walks up to her.
"Hi Lilith, I'm Emma. I'm going to be asking you some questions, okay?"
It's not really a question, though. Lilith nods.
"What are your goals for this comeback? What is the message within your song?" she woman asks.
"The overall message we're trying to give is to be yourself despite what conditions one may face. I hope that through the dance and the artist's lyrics, we can convey a message of hope to continue to defy the confinements in which we live in."
Lilith almost laughs saying it. But it sounds convincing; even she almost believes it for a second.
"That's a powerful message," Emma says. "And, by the way - I was notified that it's almost your birthday! Do you have any plans?"
"Not really. I've been so busy," Lilith says. That's not a lie.
"Well, make sure to invite me to your birthday party, for sure," Emma laughs, not unkindly, and Lilith wishes she could commit herself more.
I don't see the same energy in Lilith. She looks tired.
I hope Lilith is okay. The whole comeback seems strained.
No, no. This is not the reaction Lilith wanted. She knows there are far more positive reactions than negative, but some have begun to notice. The mask is cracked, but she needs to give what everyone what they want, and what they want is faultlessness. She is nothing without her image.
"Okay, break is over!" her instructor calls, her voice reverberating throughout the barren studio. Lilith can tell that the other dancers are just as tired as she is.
The dance studio used to feel like home. Thousands of miles from her own hometown, this was the one place Lilith felt safe in. Now, it's bleak and unfamiliar. Spotless and grey. Suddenly, she feels the sensation to throw up.
"Miss Welsh?" her instructor says again, and Lilith looks at everyone staring at her, and - Lilith is done. Lilith Welsh is done.
It's half an hour of dry heaving in a cold bathroom stall. It's bitter tasting tears burning down her cheeks and short and uncontrolled breaths that she should know how to control.
Lilith Welsh, Lilith Welsh, Lilith Welsh, the pristine grey tiles on the floor shriek at her until she feels bile rise in her throat in another wave of disgust.
It's almost six when she finally heads out. Practice is long over, but there's someone waiting for her down the shadowy hall.
"Who are you?" she asks, something accusatory lining her tone.
"Andrew Wong," he says. Lilith recognizes him as one of the backup dancers.
"Does Madame need anything?"
"No," he says. "I just wanted to ask you if you were feeling better."
"Then yes, I'm feeling better," Lilith says, moving out of the way for the entrance.
"No - wait," Andrew says, straightening up. "Do you wanna grab dinner? There's a restaurant nearby."
Lilith pauses. This could be a mistake. But - "alright," she says, and gestures for Andrew to lead the way. The sky is already dark outside, and she shivers.
"So, Lilith Welsh, the one and only, how was your day?"
"Don't call me that," Lilith rolls her eyes. "I'm doing peachy."
Andrew smiles. "No need for that attitude here, Lilith."
Lilith wrinkles her nose. "Okay, Andrew Wong. Let me one up you. How was your day?"
Andrew doesn't seem bothered by the question. "I guess it went pretty well. I've been missing home, though. I had to come here for the comeback."
"Where do you come from?"
"Canada," Andrew says. "But you wouldn't know where. It was a small town."
"It snow every day there?" Lilith asks, and Andrew scoffs.
"Why would you think that?"
"I dunno... isn't Canada way up north?" Lilith defends, watching a vaguely shocked look come across Andrew's face.
"It's not that cold. But, I guess, the weather up there makes winter here more tolerable. Here - we've reached our destination."
Lilith looks at the restaurant. It's pretty small, with one or two diners seated inside. She doubts any one of them would recognize her.
Besides, no one would recognize her gaunt features anyway. She hasn't been eating too much recently.
"Mexican food?" she inquires amusedly. Andrew laughs in response.
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" he asks. Lilith says she hasn't eaten Mexican food in quite a while.
"Then I will awaken your taste buds, my young protégé," Andrew says. "This place's chicken chilaquiles are to die for."
Lilith brightens. "I do remember liking those."
"You haven't known real food until eating those," Andrew smiles. "If I could eat chilaquiles every day, I undoubtedly would."
"We'll see about that," Lilith says. "I can and will buy you chilaquiles every day for a year, and let's see how that ends."
"Is that a challenge?" Andrew says, brow arching. Lilith nods seriously.
And - surprisingly, the food isn't bad.
For a moment, they eat in silence. But at one point, Andrew wipes his lips, and says, "My mom used to make these whenever I got home from exams at school. Every semester." There's a tinge of nostalgia in his voice. Lilith pauses.
"She seems like an amazing woman," Lilith says, unsure of what to tell him.
"Seemed," Andrew corrects, and Lilith's mouth drops open in apology. But he doesn't look angry or very sad. Just wistful. "I left Canada because I felt like home wasn't home anymore, without her."
"Oh," Lilith says. She opens and closes her mouth.
Strangely, she feels tears pricking her eyes. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," Andrew says. It's silent and dark.
Lilith speaks up after a moment, not fully understanding but wanting to be able to relate with the other. "I wish I could love my mom like you loved yours."
Andrew gazes at her, waiting for her to continue.
Lilith swallows. "I - I dance, y'know? I mean, of course you know. It used to be my passion, when I was a lot younger, but I've started giving up on that. My mom is the only reason I'm doing it today, and I hate it. I hate my lifestyle."
It's the first time she's said it out loud with finality. Her appetite has vanished, and the food looks cold. Yet - she feels something lift from her shoulders. Something in her world becomes slightly lighter.
Andrew looks at her. For a long time, he doesn't speak.
"Have you ever thought of taking a break?" he asks.
"Anastasia Ausra and Andrew Won with their hit single Dawn!" the host declares, exiting the stage with a smile directed toward the performer. The cheers of the audience power her as she prepares herself to enter the stage. Adrenaline runs through her veins, and she feels powerful.
Beside her, Andrew squats down. "Ready to conquer?" he asks, a wide smile on his face, and Ana returns a fistbump. It means: yes, more than ready. Means: always with you.
When they finally get the cue to enter the stage, the audience's enthusiastic cheers fuel her with a fire that has her running out with power. She feels free, and her body is her wings. The black and white lingered long, but it had to go at some point.
Now, she feels like color.
Once, Lilith Welsh said to the world that dancing is happiness.
Now, Anastasia can say that too.