Jane held back a groan as she practiced her positions and going into pliés.
She should have known that after about fifteen years of not dancing at all, even the most basic of steps would be difficult. What made her think that she could do something like a grand jeté or a pirouette again? If it weren’t for her coworkers goading and pushing her into doing something beyond chasing deep space anomalies and researching ways to crack the elusive Einstein-Rosen bridges, she wouldn’t even be in a dance studio.
But their looks of worry and their endless words of concern about her lack of a social life (or any life at all, as one put it), made her feel guilty enough to go do something that would get them off of her back. Taking a class was the easiest way out—no need for social interaction if she didn’t want to. She could be the girl in the back of the class who kept to herself, never too early or running late, never one to hang around after class.
She could even make up stories to make it seem like she was being social!
“Your posture,” one girl next to her whispered, giving Jane a pitying smile.
“Oh,” she replied, pulling her stomach up to her ribcage and rolling her shoulders back, remembering her lessons from when she was a lot more limber and less used to sitting at a desk. As soon as she did that, her legs didn’t shake as much and her feet complained a bit less. Still, maybe she should have stretched and warmed up before coming.
“Long time since you’ve practiced?” the girl asked.
“Don’t worry, it gets easier. But don’t be like me and literally go break a leg!”
Jane laughed and nodded, looking out to the dance studio. The ballet class was for beginner adults, but she could see that some of the people around her were probably still in high school. A few were older and she wondered if they were more advanced dancers back when they were younger. It would explain why they looked so at ease.
This one looked like hundreds of other studios, like the one she used to go to: hard wood floors were polished to a ridiculous shine, and where the white walls were not covered by floor to ceiling mirrors, windows and support bars too their place. It wasn’t as musty as a gym, but it didn’t smell like the old books and electronics of her lab. She wished that she could be back there, right now, analyzing her star charts and other data, but a part of her was loath to admit that she was looking forward to these lessons.
The clock on the wall by the door chimed two in the afternoon, and their instructor came in. Impossibly tall and dripping with self-control and poise, he went to the front of the room, looking at them all for a moment—and focusing on Jane. Almost squirming under his gaze, she lowered herself back onto her feet and stepped away from the barre.
She must have been seeing things, because when she blinked, he was looking elsewhere.
“Hello,” he said. “As some of you may know, my name is Loki Laufeyson. Are there any new members to the class?”
Jane raised her hand, relieved to see that she was not the only new one.
Nodding, he asked them all about their dancing background. His expression overall was professional, but she could see that he was not very impressed with anyone, especially with how he went up and down the rows they automatically made, his nose slightly up in the air. It made her wonder what his background was and why he was so haughty.
“U-Um,” Jane stammered when he got to her. “It’s been fifteen years. I was in the DISC program in San Francisco.”
“Ah,” he replied. “Well, we shall see what will happen, won’t we?”
She nodded, wondering what that meant as he turned on some simple classical music.
Going back to the front of the room, Loki directed everyone in the typical warm up exercises, from first position to grand pliés, going up and down the rows, correcting postures and giving advice until they did it to his satisfaction, demonstrating in front first. She could tell by the looks on everyone’s faces that they were jealous of his grace and poise, except for the few who might just be practicing the basics again. She was one of them. How could she not be when he made it look so effortless?
Despite that, the class had not been as daunting as Jane first thought.
“Little bit higher,” Loki said, touching her elbow gently as everyone moved his or her arms from second position to third position. “There. Your fifth position is excellent, by the way.”
She was about to reply when he moved onto the next person.
For the next half hour, they did all the routine exercises and moves—pirouettes and a few simple jumps, and more that Jane was slowly starting to recall with more and more clarity.
“To the center,” he said suddenly.
Jane felt her mouth go dry.
They were going to the center of the room already?
Standing at the front, he positioned himself for what Jane recognized as a pas de bourree.
“Now, we’re going to try what is called a traveling step—make sure you have plenty of room to move around, and do not worry about doing it perfectly the first time. This is to introduce actually moving across a floor instead of staying in a single position.”
Jane pushed her nervousness away and listened carefully as he showed them step-by-step of how to do the quick movement, encouraging them to mirror him and go as slow as they wanted to. It was just practice and they would be doing this many times anyways.
Her feet finally moving of their own accord, Jane felt less self-conscious about her movements and placements. If she wanted to be honest, it was kind of nice to be in the dance studio once more. Her lessons back when she was a kid were the highlight of her days, even though they were only for ten weeks at a time. She never intended to dance professionally as some other kids did, but the music and stories still captivated her and being able to move her body in such a poised way was thrilling.
Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Her mind certainly could use something else to focus on so work wouldn’t burn her out.
She wondered if she could—
Jane gasped when the person next to her took a misstep and tripped, suddenly colliding into her, sending them both crashing to the floor.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry!” the girl from before exclaimed, reaching out to help Jane up.
“I-It’s okay, really, I’m fine,” she replied, trying to keep her hands from shaking, but as soon as she got a little support, her legs fell out from under her, a shot of pain going through her ankle. She couldn’t hold back a cry of pain, as much as she wanted to.
“I’ve got her. Everyone, go back to the barres and practice positions once more.”
Loki easily picked her up, putting her arm around his shoulder so she could put her weight on her good leg as he helped her to a corner.
“Sorry, sorry,” she muttered over and over again, wincing as she slid to the floor. “I’m fine, don’t worry—sorry I interrupted…”
All of the sudden, she was back in a dance studio fifteen years ago, everyone around her shouting and exclaiming in horror, her own screams echoing in her head.
He scoffed and pushed a cold water bottle into her hands, making her jump and pulling her out of her memories.
“Use this for now,” he said sternly, before turning to the class. The looks of shock and pity all over their faces made her sick to her stomach.
“Class, it is close enough to the end already, so take this time to do some cooling down exercises, as I have shown you before. For those of you who are new, they are simple, so just follow your classmate’s examples. Thank you for your hard work, I will see you all next time.”
After about five minutes, the class was dismissed and Jane felt even worse. Not just because her ankle was alternating between being numb and throbbing with pain, but because she interrupted the class and caused a commotion, something she didn’t want to do. This class was to be relaxing, not causing her bodily injuries! She might have even given some of the newer dancers a horrible scare, making them reconsider ballet!
“Here,” Loki said, putting a pillow under her ankle to elevate it, his hands cool and gentle.
“I’m fine, really. I’ll just go home and put some ice on it. I don’t live far away at all.” Jane babbled, brushing some loose strands of hair out of her face, moving to get up. Loki pushed her down by her shoulders, stopping her.
“If you want to make it to the next practice on Wednesday significantly recovered, you are going to rest here for a few hours, Miss Foster.”
Jane’s eyes snapped up to his.
“I never told you my name.”
He chuckled, giving her a mischievous grin, his green eyes sparkling. She did not know how he knew her. Surely she would have remembered a smile like that. Right?
“At first, I was not sure it was you, but then you said DISC,” he explained. “I’m glad you’re dancing again.”
“You were there!” Jane accused with a horrified gasp.
His expression turned grim. “Indeed I was, a new student in the area. Believe me, that day haunts me too. It was unfair in many, many ways. I had seen you practice a few times before then and my breath was taken away.”
Tears filled Jane’s eyes.
Fifteen years ago, she had been considering dancing professionally. After all, the children’s classes at the San Francisco Ballet offered scholarships and over fifty students were recruited each year to continue their studies, and she had been attending the program since she was five. She loved dancing: from breaking in new shoes to learning different types of dancing, to practicing her favorite, ballet. Like millions of other little girls, she had dreams of being a soloist in a production, of being applauded while a spotlight shone down on her and the other dancers, flowers thrown on stage for them.
She dreamed of grand jumps, acrobatics in more modern productions, dancing with a partner in a pas de deux… of sharing her love of ballet with audiences all over the world.
But during a mock exam to achieve the scholarship, she tripped and broke her leg.
No—that wasn’t right.
She had been pushed and then she tripped.
It was almost like Nancy Kerrigan all over again, but she had no idea why she had been pushed or how she broke her leg so badly from a simple fall, nor did she have any proof that the other girl meant to do anything malicious. It couldn’t have been the scholarship; no one had even approached her about it and there were certainly plenty of slots left open. All she knew was that the other girl had gotten what she wanted: Jane could not walk without crutches for three months and could not practice at all for almost a year.
By that point, she had decided to give up ballet altogether and turned to her mother’s old astronomy books for comfort, igniting a new passion.
“Jane,” Loki murmured, touching her cheek. “History is not repeating itself. This time, it was a mere accident. The girl lost her balance.”
Jane rapidly blinked her eyes, trying to hold back her tears.
She was not some broken, lifeless doll. She had new aspirations and hopes. No one could do anything to her mind, not unless she let them. They couldn’t simply push her down onto the floor and ruin years of researching black holes and dark matter.
“She said she broke her leg too.”
Sitting down close beside her, he gave her a slight smile. “I am sure she will apologize for an hour the next time she sees you. Now, I have been dancing since that day, determined to find you in an audience or perhaps in a dance studio once more. Can I count on you not disappearing on me again?”
“Disappear? Again?” she asked, frowning.
“I said you took my breath away when I saw you dance,” he explained, his smile growing. “Or am I the only one who dreamed of performing a pas de deux with someone?”