Dancing for the Lord: The Academy

BOOK: Dancing for the Lord: The Academy

Chapter One

Danielle Wilkerson sat on her front porch, swinging her foot slowly back and forth as she stared out at the dawn slowly creeping over the horizon.  There was nothing left for her to do.  She had packed all of her things the night before; she had been up and dressed for nearly an hour, and even finished packing all of those little last-minute things that were so easy to forget. 

Her toothbrush. 
pillows, comforting simply because they both smelled and felt like home.  The book that had been sitting on her nightstand as she prepared for bed the night before, just in case she had trouble sleeping. 

As it had turned out, she hadn’t had the least bit of trouble sleeping the night before.  The problem had been staying that way.  Finally, at about four in the morning, Danni had given up and headed downstairs.  She knew her mother would want to fix her a last breakfast, so she hadn’t eaten; but she had gotten herself ready, and then come outside, where she could be alone with her thoughts.

I’m not sure I’m ready, Lord
, she prayed silently. 
I know this is what you want from me, but I’m not sure I’m ready to leave my home behind.

There was no answer in the stillness, not even from that still, small voice that Danni had learned to listen to when she was only a child.  That lack of a response would have bothered her, except that Danni already knew the answer to that question.  She had known since she had sent in her application all those months ago that this was the direction God was leading her—that was why she had chosen it.  And she would do it, and she would be happy, and she would know the greatest joy of all in knowing that
she followed the will of her Lord…but today, as she stood on the brink of this new life, she permitted herself just a little bit of uncertainty. 

A lot of it was because of Michael, really, though Danni was struggling not to admit it to herself.  Michael had been her dancing partner since they were in middle school—right about the time she had gotten her first pair of pointe shoes.  She’d worked with other partners over the years, but none of them had ever
her the way Michael did—and more importantly even than that, he was her best friend. 

She was going to miss him fiercely while she was gone.

Originally, they had planned to go away together.  When she’d filled out the application for the elite Androv’s Ballet Academy, she had begged and pleaded until Michael filled one out, too—and he had, had even gone to the auditions with her in spite of his own qualms. 

She’d been sure that she had been the one who screwed things up for them, wobbling en pointe when she came down after a jump.  Michael had caught her, steadying her without making it look anything less than planned, and they had gone on with the piece; but she’d been shaken up enough by that simple slip that she had been
they wouldn’t be accepted.

Michael had gotten his acceptance letter within a matter of weeks.  He had waited, sure that Danni’s would come immediately after it—but of course, no such thing had happened.  In the end, Michael had delayed for her, waiting to the last minute and beyond to fill out his scholarship paperwork.  In the end, when hers hadn’t come, he had decided that he would stay at home with her instead of going on to the Academy. 

Then, halfway through the semester, her own acceptance letter had come.  She was to start at the Academy in early November.

At first, Danni had almost refused.  She had known that if she went, she would be going alone; and she hadn’t known how she was going to manage without Michael at her side.  How could she possibly dance if he wasn’t going to be there to hold her hand—to stand in the gap for her, and help her out when she made the inevitable mistakes, and to convince her that she was more than capable of handling whatever was thrown at her in spite of the fact that neither of them knew whether or not she was actually capable of doing this? 

Except that she hadn’t had a choice.  Michael could reapply for the following year, and would probably be accepted again.  If she didn’t take this chance now, while it was being held out to her, the odds were good that she would never have the opportunity again.

And Danni knew—with absolutely no question in her mind
—that this was the plan that God had in mind for her.  She had to go to the Academy.  If she didn’t, she would be denying His sovereign plan for her life, and that was something she wouldn’t be able to live with.

She was going, whether she wanted to or not.

That didn’t mean she wasn’t having her fair share of second thoughts, though. And, she decided grimly, she was more than owed those second thoughts.  What was she supposed to
over there, without her best friend at her side?

She couldn’t remember a time when Michael had ever been more than a phone call away.  He’d been the one on the other end of the phone listening every time she
performed badly during an audition.  With the exception of
The Nutcracker
—which she had danced in for the last several years—Michael had been on stage with her every time she had ever danced. 

Danni bowed her head. 
Am I betraying him by leaving him behind, Lord?
she prayed silently.  Michael would have sworn that she wasn’t—had sworn it a hundred times. This was the opportunity they had both dreamed of.  For him, it wouldn’t have meant anything without her.  For her, though…for her, it meant everything. 

So this is the path I have to walk.  Lord, I wish you hadn’t made me walk it alone!
  But that wasn’t God’s doing, and in her more honest moments, Danni knew it.  God wasn’t the one who had ensured that she would be walking into the Academy alone.  That was all their doing.  If Michael had accepted his slot when it was offered—if they had taken that step in faith, instead of waiting in fear—he would already be there, waiting on her.

She wasn’t sure which would have been worse:  seeing him off at the beginning of the year and doing her best to paste a smile on her face through it, or the feeling she had now, sitting on the front porch and staring off into nothingness as she tried to accept the fact that she was going to be leaving him behind. 

“Why the long face, Dragonfly?” a familiar voice demanded.

Danni’s head came up, and she smiled as she watched Michael leap lightly onto the front steps of the porch, holding out his hands to pull her to her feet.  It was second nature to bound up beside him, to let him take her weight as she did so. 

They had been partners for a very long time—so long that she no longer remembered the first piece that they had danced together, only that it had been
beautiful, and perfect, and everything she had ever dreamed of when she thought of dancing a pas de deux with a partner of her very own. 

Michael had started calling her Dragonfly then, she remembered, grinning.  The first time he’d met her, she had been working with a classroom full of five-year-olds, trying to convince them to skim lightly across the surface of the floor—dragonflies on a pond, according to her teacher’s instructions.  She had been attempting to demonstrate a dragonfly for them, calling out in a half-breathless voice an explanation for each step she’d taken.

She had been Dragonfly to him ever since—and that dance, at least, Danni had never forgotten.

She stepped into it now—not an overt movement, but enough of a shift that Michael could feel it. 

He squeezed her hands and moved along with her, following along as only her partner could do.  He knew these steps as well as she did, and there was little effort involved in dancing them together.  They’d done it for a dozen different shows, even a competition or two over the years, using the same basic choreography that Danni had put together in that classroom that morning.  The younger dancers hadn’t been able to perform it to her liking; but she and Michael had been playing with it for years.  It had been set to a hundred different songs, tweaked in a dozen different ways.

She would never forget these steps. 

Michael took her by the hand, adding a step or two as he guided her out to the paved area in front of the house.  Not a bad idea; the last time they’d done this on the
porch, he’d nearly taken a tumble off of it when a leap went too far.  Danni followed him instinctively. 

Men always led during classical ballroom dancing.  On the ballet floor, things were a bit different; but Danni had still put a great deal of time and attention into learning how to properly follow her partner.  A faint change in his body language could cue her to an entirely different sequence of movements, just as the slightest change in her posture told him exactly where he needed to place his hands for the next sequence, where his feet should be resting. 

A final grand jeté; a graceful port de bras; and suddenly, it was over, and the two of them were left staring at one another. 

Danni dropped her gaze first, her big brown eyes welling with tears.  “Hello, Michael,” she said with a grin, trying to cover up the awkward moment.  “What are you doing here?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he admitted.  “And I knew if I couldn’t, you would be up, staring out at nothing.” 

She made a face at him.  “You did not know I’d be sitting out here staring at nothing!” she protested. 

“No?”  Michael grinned at her.  “Usually it’s you running over choreography in your head the morning before a performance, but you can’t say I haven’t seen this little routine before, Dragonfly.” 

Danni walked back over the porch, tugging him down alongside her when it looked as though he might choose to hover over her instead.  “All right, all right, so you know me well enough to realize I wouldn’t be sleeping,” she muttered. 

“Besides, I thought I might be able to catch one last dance with my favorite partner.”  He sighed, and now it was his turn to not be willing to meet her gaze.  “It’s going to be a long year, Danni,” he admitted softly. 

“I know.”  She rested her cheek against his shoulder—a familiar position for the two of them, though precious few realized it.  How many performances had ended or begun exactly this way, Danni’s head resting against Michael, his arm lifting ever so gently to slide around her shoulders? 

They’d never dated—never even considered it.  If asked, either of them would have said that their friendship was too important for that, and anyway, dating your dance partner was just asking for trouble.  One bad fight could ruin a relationship; and especially for Danni, finding a new partner would be difficult at best and impossible at worst.  Far better to remain good friends—best friends—and to maintain the close partnership that made them such wonders on the dance floor.

Besides, Michael had never looked at her that way.  While Danni had never had time for boyfriends—they always wanted her to make time for dates and things, and inevitably, their desired times fell during either practices or rehearsals—Michael had very calmly made his way through both the entire cheerleading squad and the dance team over the first couple of years in high school.  Now, in the middle of their junior year, he seemed to have steadied a little; but that might have been because they had decided to make the most of this year, practicing and training harder than ever before in the effort to ensure Danni a place at the Academy next year.

And then her acceptance letter had come.  It always came back to that.  They’d had so many plans; but when it came right down to it, this was the big one, the important one. 

Danni was going—even though her heart yearned for the familiar comforts of home and the only partner she had ever known. 

“I’m going to miss you,” she said huskily, her fingers instinctively finding Michael’s and lacing through them.  How many times had she done this?  How many times had he soothed pre-performance jitters away just by holding her hand?  Had she ever really even appreciated it before? 

“I’m going to miss you, too.” He leaned over, resting his cheek on top of her hair.  “Make sure you take care of yourself over there, all right?  I’m not going to be around to nag you about taking some time off every once in awhile.” 

“Oh, as if you won’t be nagging just as much as ever!” she shot back at him with a laugh.  “You’ll just have to learn to do it over the phone, that’s all.” 

“You mean you’re actually going to call me?” he teased.  “You won’t be too busy with all your Academy friends to remember your lowly partner back home?”

“Of course I’ll call!”  Danni had to swallow down the lump in her throat.  “And I’ll write, too—long letters, when I’m supposed to be paying attention in class.  You’ll like those.” 

“Page numbers for assignments doodled in the margins?”  Michael knew her too well—and he’d received more than one note with exactly that over the years.

Danni giggled.  “Either that, or choreography in the margins,” she reminded him. 

Michael rolled his eyes.  “And here I thought that was what the bulk of the letter would be about!” 

“As if you’d appreciate it,” she shot back primly. 

“Hey, you’re the creative mind here.  I just follow instructions.”  Which had made for a wonderful partnership over the years, actually.  She told him what to do, and he did it, usually flawlessly and the first time.  Some of that was that Danni knew how to explain things to him so that they just made
; some of it was that he had an instinctive grasp for things explained that way, so that it took him only a single attempt to realize what someone wanted of him.  If Danni had to explain something more than once, it was usually because she hadn’t had the vision entirely clear in her own mind when she had started. 

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