Read Panic Online

Authors: Sharon M. Draper


BOOK: Panic
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This book is dedicated to dancers everywhere, but especially to Miss Crystal and the wonderful students of Kinetic Expressions Dance Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida (


Many thanks to the following:

All the KEDA families who support their children as they learn and grow through dance.

All the KEDA students who work so hard and perform so beautifully.

Yes, this book is about you. No, that character is not you.

For real!

To my family who supports me as I work to do what I do:


Damon and Mary

Larry Draper

Cory and Wendy.

And a special shout out to Diane Swirka.

Also, please be aware of the dangers of teen dating abuse as well as predators who stalk our children. I found these websites to be helpful and informative:

Friday, April 12 4 p.m.

“ ‘Proud and insolent youth,' said Hook, ‘prepare to meet thy doom.'

“ ‘Dark and sinister man,' Peter answered, ‘have at thee.' ”

Peter Pan

dance boy!”

Sixteen-year-old Justin Braddock, wearing his favorite Timberland boots, tromped down the rain-slicked sidewalk, book bag slung over his left shoulder, heading to the bus stop. He did not turn around—he knew who trailed behind him.

“You heard me, dancing queen! Don't be tiptoeing away, now.”

Justin sighed. Another fight.

Zac Patterson, the wrestling team's “sultan of the slam,” was known to brandish both his biceps and equally massive ego. He yelled louder. “What up, fag!”

“Swish!” added Ben Bones. Justin knew Bones would be hovering just a few steps behind Zac, safe like a shadow.

Justin tried to ignore the idiots behind him. Guys had been teasing him for years, ever since he started taking dance lessons. He was as tall as Zac, more muscled than Bones. But most guys seemed clueless about the athletic skills required for the leaps and lifts he had mastered. And none of them knew how much he loved it.

“Look how he twitches those hips!” Zac jeered.

Justin wondered, amused, why Zac was so interested in his butt.

“Got your shiny pink toe shoes stuffed in that bag? Who braids your hair—yo mama?” Bones asked, laughing loudly with Zac.

“Your mama wears a tutu too!” Zac and Bones hooted with laughter.

Justin stopped walking. He tossed his backpack on the ground and spun around. “Don't you talk about my mother!” he hissed. A surge of rage and sorrow coursed through him. His mother had died less than a year before, and it felt like yesterday. It felt like forever.

“Your mama so stupid, she tried to put her M&M's in alphabetical order!” Bones sniped, still standing safely behind Zac.

Justin was not in a mood to play the dozens. Not today. Not ever. Not about his mom.

“Your mama twice the man you are,” Zac sneered.


Not today.

Justin did not hesitate. He wheeled around, tightened his right fist, then, with a
, he planted a direct blow to the center of Zac's gut.

Zac, all two hundred pounds of him, crumpled in a heap on the sidewalk. “Oomph,” he managed to mumble.

Bones, looking terrified, placed both his hands in a strategic position to protect himself, but Justin just glared at him.

“Dance with
!” Justin said as he picked up his pack. He continued down the street and did not look back.

Friday, April 12 5 p.m.

“ . . . who cuts whistles out of the trees and dances ecstatically to his own tunes.”

Peter Pan

Justin stepped nimbly off the bus, half a block away from the Crystal Pointe Dance Academy. He came here almost every day after school, and the place felt like a second home. Roomy and airy, done up in tones of red and black and white, it housed well over a hundred students—most of them girls.

He paused in the parking lot as a dark maroon Cadillac Escalade truck pulled in. In it was Layla Ridgewood, who
was dropped off every day by her boyfriend, Donovan.

Donovan Beaudry rolled his window down; ear-splittingly loud rap music exploded from the truck's custom-installed sound gear. The SUV rolled on twenty-four-inch dubs and sported a shiny set of Sprewells that Justin knew cost around $2,000 a set. The hubcaps continued to spin even after the car came to a stop. He didn't even want to think about how Donovan could have paid for all that.

Donovan kept his head shaved bald, probably to show off the tattoos on his neck, Justin figured. Another tat covered his entire left arm, spelling out “Layla” in script lettering. He glanced at Justin, coughed, then spit in his direction.

Justin glanced at him coolly. He didn't move. He and Donovan had once been best friends. In elementary school they'd played soldiers outside and video games inside.

But by their early teens Donny started to change. He was a year older, and when he got to middle school, he started to hang out with the boys who skipped classes and sold their mothers' prescription pills behind the gym. By the time Justin got to sixth grade, the two had grown apart.

“ 'Sup?” Donovan said lazily.

“Just chillin',” Justin replied.

“Still playin' ballerina with the girls every day? There's somethin' just messed up with that, man.”

“So you say.”

“Why can't you play football or basketball like a real dude?” Donovan's voice was filled with scorn.

“I don't see
wearin' cleats and shoulder pads,” Justin countered.

“I'm a lover, man. Ain't got time for sweatin' on some football field. But if that's what I wanted to do, I'd be the best man on the team, not some sissy who dances with girls.”

Justin smiled. “Dude, for four hours every day I get to hang with a room full of shorties dressed in shorts and tights and leotards.
the one who don't get it, man. I'm just swagged out like that!”

Donovan pointed a finger at Justin. “Just make sure you keep away from my Layla. She comes here to dance, not to be felt up by you.”

Justin flexed his forearms. “I got mad respect for Layla—and all the girls here.”

“You cross the line, I'll make you suffer. You got that?” Donovan spat out the window again, then pulled Layla toward him and kissed her roughly.

When she got out of the car, Layla swiped her hand across her mouth, then waved cheerfully as Donovan gunned the engine and drove away. He didn't wave back.

“Hey, Justin,” Layla said. “You know, you gotta just ignore Donny. He's all smoke.”

“Yeah, I know.” He paused, then went for it. “But I wonder if you do.”

Layla's eyes went flat for a second; she swallowed and then opened her mouth to answer, quickly changing the subject. “How was school today?” They both went to Broadway High, where Layla was a sophomore and Justin was a junior.

“Same old. What's up with you?”

“Chillaxin'. Glad to get here so I can stretch out some of my stress.”

“Girl, what you got to be stressed about? The show tomorrow? Donovan?” Justin asked as they walked to the front door of the studio.

“Donny's great, but you know—stuff at home, stuff at school. This is the only place where I feel like I can really kick it. And OMG, the show is gonna be off the chain!”

“I feel ya.”

Justin pulled open the heavy red wooden doors for her and breathed in happily. Layla was right. Music played softly from speakers in the ceiling. To the left was the Crystal Café, a cozy little room with vending machines, a microwave, and an odd assortment of tables and chairs to lounge in. Students came in from school and gobbled whatever was available that week.

“I wonder if the Wi-Fi is up,” Layla mused as she got a diet cola and granola bar from the machines.

Justin got out his iPad and checked. “Yep. Miss Ginger musta got it fixed. You're free to update your Facebook status to ‘Still lockin' lips with Donovan!' ”

She looked at him, sipped her soda, then said, “What? You jealous?”

“He's a lucky man,” Justin admitted. “I just don't think he realizes what a good thing he's got.”

Layla looked away. “I think he knows. I just hope he remembers.”

Justin wasn't exactly sure what
meant, but he kept his face a mask and headed for the main dance room. He
cued up “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. Yeah, it was old, but it was timeless. He turned the music up as loud as it would go and let it wash over him as he pulled off his shirt and his shoes. Wearing only sweatpants, he began to move to the rhythms that pounded around him. He stretched for a few moments, then he began to spin. He bounded. He leaped. He did coffee grinders and helicopters, body glides and freezes.

He'd started as a B-boy dancer, popping and locking for fun in his living room, showing off for his parents as he spun on his head or balanced on his arms. But at the studio he'd discovered jazz dance styles, modern, and even ballet. He was amazed how easily each form had come to him. It was like sampling new flavors of candy, each bubbling to its own soundtrack.

Covered with sweat and breathing hard, Justin finally stopped when he realized several students were standing by the mirrors, watching him. A couple of them clapped.

“Great job, Justin,” Miss Ginger called out as she breezed into the room. She tossed him a towel. Lithe and muscular, she could outdance most of the students who attended her studio, even though she had to be at least forty years old. Her frizzy brown-gray hair framed her face like a halo.

“Thanks, Miss Ginger. I was just warming up.” He wiped his face and glanced back at Layla. She was busily texting—
Probably Donovan,
he thought.

“Have you posted the cast for
Peter Pan
yet?” Diamond Landers asked the teacher. Tryouts had been held two days
ago for the highlight of the year—the June full-company dance adaptation of a major Broadway show.

“You can find the list online tonight,” Miss Ginger replied. “I am
looking forward to working with you guys—it's going to be awesome!”

BOOK: Panic
3.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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