Authors: Angie Stanton
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Love & Romance
On the way to school, Jilly made it clear that if I went out for the show it would be slamming the cheer door closed forever. But that was exactly what I wanted. During lunch everyone in the atrium barely spoke to me. It’s like I became some evil traitor just because I refused to cheer. Okay, fly. An involuntary shiver shook me at the thought of it. No. I needed to make sure no one asked me to cheer again. That door needed to be locked, barricaded, and welded shut.
With any luck I could join the chorus. But my dance skills had rusted with lack of use. Last night, when I dug through the back of the closet for dance shoes, I came across the box packed with my old dance trophies and awards. At one time I’d been an awesome dancer for Davis Dance Academy. Last night, that box mocked me.
After pushing all the living room furniture out of the way, I stayed up past midnight working my old routine. By the time I went to bed, I could do it as well as I used to do a triple flip.
The bell rang and startled me. The pencil I’d been drumming flew across the row and hit a kid on the head. He turned and raised an eyebrow at me.
“Sorry.” I scrambled out of my chair and picked up the accidental weapon. I gathered my books and stuffed the pencil down the wire spiral of my notebook.
The crowded hallways suffocated me as I fought the combination of dread and adrenaline for my audition with the famed director. After I stuffed my books in my locker, I grabbed my old dance bag with the frayed sides.
Unsure of where the kids in the show changed, and not wanting to run into any cheer kids in the locker room, I used the girls’ bathroom closest to the auditorium. In the handicapped stall, I stepped out of my street clothes and pulled on tights and a leotard. The
snapped tight against my skin, making me aware of every muscle. It reminded me to suck in my gut and stand straighter.
Afraid to step out of the stall as a few girls still moved in and out of the bathroom, I did a few
and stretches in the confines of the space. I felt like an idiot, but it was better than trying to warm up and have someone see me. What a fraud I was—hiding in the bathroom.
I checked my phone; it was almost
. I pulled on a pair of soft workout shorts and rolled down the waistband. Then I pulled on a pair of loose sweats and a t-shirt and put my shoes back on. The bathroom became eerily quiet as most kids left for the day.
I went to the sink and looked at the scared pale face in the mirror with long brown wavy hair pulled back tight. This would not work. I slapped my cheeks and bounced on the balls of my feet a few times. Better. I could do this. It was this or cheer; and cheer was not an option. It would be like riding a bike.
I took a deep breath.
Shut up, suck it up, and go deliver the goods.
With a nod to the mirror, I went to the auditorium.
From the main doors at the back a sea of darkened seats led to the empty, brightly lit stage. I performed on this stage for choir plenty of times, but never dancing and certainly never alone illuminated by all these bright lights.
At the front of the room, a man, who must be the director, spoke to Miss Ginny. Cripes! Miss Ginny must have wanted to make sure I showed up. I stood a little taller and forced an easy smile on my face as I approached.
“Ah, there she is,” said Miss Ginny. Kindness shone in her eyes. She reached for my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze; she felt like a lifeboat in a storm.
“Tyson Scott, I’d like you to meet Miss Willow Thomas.”
He seemed way too young to be a Broadway director. A shadow of dark beard covered his chiseled face and his expertly styled hair came right off a magazine cover. He looked like New York. He smiled wide and friendly. He was hands-down the hottest guy I had ever seen.
“Hello, Mr. Scott. Nice to meet you.” I found it hard not to stare.
“Please, call me Tyson. My father was Mr. Scott.” He held out his hand and we shook; his firm reassuring grip matched his intelligent sapphire eyes. I noticed his quick assessment and wondered if I measured up.
“Nice to meet you, Willow. What a great name.”
“Thanks. My parents like to be different. They’re kind of modern day hippies. They named my little sister Breezy.”
“They sound like people I’d like to meet.”
He watched my posture with an expert eye. I stood straighter.
“Your name has come up from a couple of different sources, and I’ve been hearing great things about you.”
“Really?” I felt lost in the presence of this hugely charismatic man.
Miss Ginny beamed with pride as if I were some sort of prized show dog.
“Why, of course,” Miss Ginny said. “You were always my star pupil. I had so much hope for you, and then you abandoned me and quit dancing.”
Star pupil? She sure knew how to lay it on thick.
Miss Ginny nodded. “Tyson, you will see. She is a fabulous dancer.”
“I have no doubt,” he said. “In all these years, you have never steered me wrong. No, that’s not entirely true. There were a couple costumes you forced me to wear that had no place on a young impressionable boy.”
“Ha, you were never a boy. You were always a man struggling to break out into the world.”
Suddenly, I recognized him as the boy in many of the old photos in Miss Ginny’s office. One of the costumes made him look like a life-size piñata.
Tyson hugged her. “Miss Ginny taught me everything I know.”
“Nonsense, I taught you everything
know. You took your skills to New York and became an icon.”
He smiled and shook his head; the admiration they shared for each other was clear. “You took all my bouncing-off-the-wall energy and channeled it into something great.” He smiled at her, and Miss Ginny blushed. It touched my heart.
“Having the lead removed from the show by school officials wasn’t in my game plan. You aren’t in the habit of creative baking are you?” he asked me as his eyes danced.
“Me? No way. I definitely do not bake.” I was practically flunking Foods class. My dad on the other hand, might very well bake special brownies now and then, but I didn’t think this was a good time to mention it.
“I’m down a dancer, and, from what I hear, you know a thing or two about dance.”
“Yes,” I hesitated. “To be truthful, I haven’t danced in a long time.” I didn’t want him to be disappointed. Dance was a discipline, and I’d ignored it for so long.
“And why was that?” he asked.
“I took up cheerleading.”
“Really? Did you like it?”
“Actually, I did.” His sincere interest surprised me.
“She was a flyer, the girl they toss in the air. She helped them win a national title last year,” Miss Ginny said.
“That’s great! Quite an accomplishment.”
“Willow doesn’t do anything half way,” Miss Ginny added.
“I understand you left cheerleading? What happened there?” Tyson asked finally getting down to the dirt.
I took a deep breath and figured I might as well put it all on the table. “There was an accident. I fell and got hurt. My heart just isn’t in it anymore.”
“I see.” Tyson nodded, his eyes met mine, and I wondered if he knew that fear made me quit. “How are you feeling? Has the doctor cleared you for activities?”
“I’m good. It’s all good.”
“Glad to hear it. So what do you think of our little show?”
“I don’t really know much, other than it’s a lot of dance.”
He laughed, revealing straight bright teeth. “Yes, it is that and so much more. I like to think of it as a fusion of art, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s see if you still know how to dance, shall we?”
Here we go. It’s now or never.
“Did you bring something to dance in?”
“Yes, under my sweats.”
“Do you need time to warm up?” he asked.
“No, I’m already.”
“Willow is always prepared. You will see,” Miss Ginny chimed in. “I brought the music from your last competition solo. You remember it.”
She wasn’t giving me any chance to back out.
“I hope so.” I glanced at Tyson, worried. He grinned, amused by Miss Ginny’s subtle manipulation. “I’ll give it a try,” I said.
I took off my sweats and t-shirt then squeezed into my ballet slippers. My feet had grown since I last wore them. Miss Ginny spoke in soft tones to Tyson as I took the stage front and center and waited for the music to begin. I took a couple of breaths to relax, and then said a silent prayer.
Please let me
good enough to get in and not embarrass myself in the process
I stood alone. Solo. The way I’d felt since the fall.
Moments later, the sound of music filled the air. With no time to think, I began. At first I felt stiff from nerves as I struggled to remember the dance, but then muscle memory set in and I got lost with the music. I danced and twirled, my body moving to the music as fluid as water in a spring stream. With my back arched and toes pointed, I let the past week dissolve and lived for this moment. I worked to make every turn tight and straight. I pushed each leap higher and made the floor rolls as smooth and effortless as possible. I let my tensions go and felt the grace and power of the moment. The more I danced, the more the memories flooded back. My love of movement and art returned like an old friend.
The music ended, leaving me in the closing pose. Adrenalin pumped through me. I’d forgotten what a high I got from dance and how the energy and emotion fulfilled me. My eyes watered and threatened to embarrass me. Cheer was regimented and precise, not an artistic release. My body buzzed with the passion I’d locked away.
“I see you haven’t forgotten after all, but, of course, one never forgets their true calling, no matter how far away they run,” Miss Ginny said and then addressed Tyson. “She’s rusty, but that’s to be expected. Give her some time, and she’ll be back in perfect form.”
I swiped my wet eyes.
Tyson watched with his arms crossed and head tilted to the side in thought. A smirk lit the corner of his mouth. He nodded to himself and then leaned over and spoke with Miss Ginny.
As I worked to recover my breath, I looked anywhere but at the two holding a private
wow to decide my fate. Before I danced, I wanted this so bad so I could escape cheer for once and for all. But dancing full out stirred my memories. Dance is such a joyful place. When I dance, nothing else matters. It’s as if I existed in a perfect world of free flowing grace and joy. Now I wanted to be a part of this show more than I’ve ever wanted anything. I didn’t care how small the part. And if I didn’t get in, I’d talk to my Mom about taking classes again. I was coming home.
Tyson and Miss Ginny looked up. “Willow, that was very nice,” he said.
I sighed in relief and walked to the steps at the side of the stage.
“Hold up, please. I’d like to see you try some new choreography.”
“All right.” I looked to Miss Ginny.
Tyson turned toward the back of the dim auditorium. “Eli, are you back there?”
“I’m here.” A low voice answered from the darkened seats.
My gut clenched at the sound of the familiar voice from my past.
The reason I quit dancing.
“Come on up and teach Willow the first combinations of the
,” Tyson said.
I shielded my eyes from the bright stage lights and watched a shadow appear from the darkness. His lanky form grew larger, like a mirage in the desert. As he ambled down the aisle past Tyson and Miss Ginny, the light caught his blond hair. He needed a haircut. It still curled up at the sides. He leapt on stage like a jungle cat and walked toward me. He averted his gaze and stopped a few feet away.
I bit at my lip. Why hadn’t I thought about Eli? Of course he was in the show; he would have the lead. This would be his nirvana, working with a Broadway director.
The hope of reaching his dreams.
Eli had talked about working on Broadway so many times over the years. That was before I walked away from Eli and dance on a warm fall night.