When I made you smile

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Expectations

The soothing strains of a classical piano and cello piece faded away into something a little more upbeat as my alarm forced me to face the next day. Rubbing the remaining sleep out of my eyes with a wash cloth I contemplated my options of hiding versus facing the day head on. Twenty minutes later and craving coffee my fingers were weaving through my hair expertly creating the neat crown braid I preferred to the flat bun that had been part of my previous uniform.

Unable to delay the inevitable, I slung my book bag across my body so it rested comfortably against my hip and left my safe haven. The wind played havoc with the stray hairs already finding their way out of my braids. Distinct aromas of bacon and eggs permeated the air closer to the dining hall. Footsteps followed me. Tilting my head I caught the distinct second set. Two people then. ‘Dobroye utro krasavitsa.’ caught my attention. ’Dobroye utro.’the words slipped out automatically before I could catch them. Turning to the tall boy beside me I continued in English, ‘Good morning Atticus, I hope you didn’t spend half the night learning Russian for me from google translate.’ ‘I may have picked up a few phrases.’ he admitted half turning to include his companion in our conversation, ‘Have you met my brother Sebastian? He’s silent in seven languages.’

Eyes as dark as the night sky met mine. His mouthed quirked up at the edges in a sardonic grin, ‘Verbal with those who matter to me. Krasivaya malen’kaya tantsovhchitsa.’ Beautiful tiny dancer. Unwilling to show him I had been affected by comment I muttered, ‘Vypendrivat’sya.’ Show off. ‘Are you eating with us again this morning Ciara?’ Atticus interrupted the moment with his easy going attitude. ‘I don’t know.’ arching an eyebrow at his brother’s disappearing back, ‘I don’t want to intrude.’ Huffing slightly he shakes his head, ‘We’re pretty friendly here.’ Face splitting into an easy smile he continues, ‘What do you like to do for fun?’ ‘Fun?’ Echoing the word back at him blankly I remembered the concept with difficulty. My life had been so wrapped up in perfecting my technique that I hadn’t been interested in much outside of work.

‘Hobbies? Interests? Pursuits?’ He clarifies before pulling me gently off the path so others can use the doorway. ‘I lived and breathed ballet for the last eleven years. Over my breaks, I spent my time remodelling my apartment.’ readjusting my bag on my shoulder I feel the intensity of his attention. ‘So the rumours are true.’ His voice holds a speculative note in it that rubs me slightly the wrong way, ‘You were a pretty little robot ballerina?’ Waiting for the next group of bystanders to pass I reply with a laugh, ‘This injury didn’t happen from clothes shopping.’ ‘Have you been to Paris during fashion week? Anyone whose serious about it can be seriously cut throat when it comes to their clothing.’ He plays along with me before we enter the dining hall. ‘The only thing girls were cutthroat over in my world were getting the best parts in the next show. Or even getting parts at all.’ He leads me over to a intimate setting in the corner away from the hustle of the centre of the room. ‘The girls here can be exactly the same as the ones in your last school. Only here, they are competing for status, some for life partners and others for wealth. You are a breath of fresh air in this place. Don’t join the crowd. Figure out what you want from life and go after it instead.’ He added, ‘They are waiting to be introduced properly over lunch.’ He had given me both a wise piece of advice and a warning both of which I had every intention of heeding.

Classes were small and intense. Academic expectations were high. Participation seemed to be mandatory. Meghan caught up with me, ‘I hear you’re teaching this afternoon’s dance class.’ Fishing for information she could pass around. ’That’s what my time table says.' confirming her knowledge without adding to it seemed to be a smart play, ‘So who else takes dance with us?’ ‘All the senior girls do. It’s mandatory for posture and deportment here.’ Waiting for the next group of students to pass us on the path I ask aloud, ‘Why does this feel like the moment they showed an obligatory disabled person in the Descendents 2 opening dance number?’ Meghan snorted before reigning in her laughter, ‘Listen I promise that it’s nothing like that. No one is going to burst into random songs, holding an apple with cute puppies prancing around their feet. Here you have to watch out for the piranhas snapping at your heels.’ shrugging one shoulder she adds, ‘Everyone wants to be the best. At the moment that’s Bella.’

Bella. She hadn’t changed much from the last time we were in school together. Observing the ever changing exchange of power within the tight knit group during lunch I knew she still resented me for ‘the incident’ as I had been calling it for many years in my head. Her cousins Flame and Emily attended water ways also. We were acquainted through the many different social circles my mother travelled in. Atticus and Sebastian Echo. Future leaders in one of the world’s biggest corporations making money from everything and nothing all at once. Ty Saint of Saint Enterprises. Edward Stephen Black the fourth of Black and Gold Lawyers catering to the very rich and introverted of the upper levels of the crème de la crème of the world. Meghan Kelly floated on the edges of this intricately put together solar system. Good enough to be there but not an integral part of the group.

Picking at the salad in front of me I listened to the conversation flowing around me until her plummy tones caught my attention, ‘What brings you to Water Ways Ciara?’ Flipping her bottle blond hair back so that she could meet my eyes her emerald contacts glinted maliciously. The girl was trouble with a capital ‘T’. ‘I had a bad fall.’ gesturing down at the bulky black brace encasing my knee. ‘Is this like a hiatus from dance or a permanent thing?’ Queen Piranha in fine form. Sensing blood she continued, ‘It’s not like they wouldn’t put you through rehab in Russia if they thought you could continue with the ballet school.’ ‘Company.’ correcting her assumption with a smile I confirmed her suspicion, ‘Russian ballet is no longer for me but at least I got to dance with the company.’

Gentle chimes signifying the end of lunch rang out ending the conversation and sparking a mad dash to the next class of the day. My class. The one I wasn’t looking forward to.

For forty minutes I watched, corrected, directed with grace and if I could feel my last nerve she’d be dancing all over it. Clapping my hands to grab the attention of the tittering girls in front of me grinding out the word ‘Again.’ I don’t know what person I offended to land in this purgatory but at least I had a expiry date on the whole shit show.

Be kind. Straight rows at either side of the floor greeted my sweeping gaze. They all knew pressure, disappointment and joy but none of these young women had bled out for the art they were learning as part of their studies. ‘Timing is key. If even one of you is out, then the whole corps de ballet looks like a gaggle of dying swans instead of the beautiful creatures you are supposed to be emulating. Bella. You are unsure of what this young man is offering. You have been hurt before by people pretending to be your friend. You are inquisitive but wary at the same time. Daddy's money cannot buy you out of this predicament. You must pretend that you know what it’s like to go from having money to living without. Try again.’

Pretending not to be annoyed by the half-hearted applause and blatant disrespect that would have never been allowed at the school I had just transferred in from I concentrate on making my way from the room with my head held high.

Staring at myself in the mirror in the change room allotted to me I waited. Could I be in a room full of dancers again full time? My head’s response was yes but my broken beyond repair heart screamed hell no. I needed to finish my education it was too late to change my subjects but I didn’t want to keep teaching ungrateful teens who had no idea what it meant to be a ballerina. The small group of girls that made up our senior class seemed to have congregated in the middle of the foyer, ‘I guess what they say is true. Those that can’t-teach.’ From my vantage point I silently watch them tear me apart with their words. Laughter ripples back into the hall from the door way.

Manoeuvring through the group only to see Bella doing a poor imitation of me walking with my crutches. Silence descends around us. ‘The sincerest form of flattery is imitation.’ smiling sweetly at the two instigators I point to Bella, ‘Your technique is flawed, your footwork is sloppy and you’re half a beat behind the music.’ continuing before they have a chance to speak I make myself add, ‘When you come back to my class don’t give a half assed job-give me everything you have. You never know when it will be ripped away from you. Losing what you love doing the most is like living without half of your soul. I hope you never have to feel that.’ Wrapping the shreds of my dignity around myself I push through the doors with Meghan at my heels.

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