Authors: Rachel Vail
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Themes, #Friendship, #Family, #Parents, #Performing Arts, #Dance, #Fiction, #General, #Social Issues
CJ’s life has always been ballet . . .
but is that what she really wants?
Dance class meant no words for an hour, relief. I was nuts for it—I listened only to ballet music and practiced until my legs shook.
, I used to say to myself, falling asleep. Ballerina.
But now I’m in seventh grade—maybe my favorite musician shouldn’t be Tchaikovsky anymore. Maybe I should be eating cookies, even slouching occasionally, or crossing my legs (which I never do—it works against turn-out)—enough adagios, I think sometimes; I should be trudging with my friends through the mall on a Saturday, eating Gummi Bears, wearing a Boggs Bobcats soccer jersey with number five on the back. But then I lift myself up onto the tips of my toes and imagine waiting in the wings for my entrance. It’s hard to know which I want more.
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First published in the United States of America by Scholastic, Inc., 1998
Published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014
Copyright © 1998 by Rachel Vail
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Puffin Books ISBN 978-0-698-13955-8
to my grandfather, Harry Silverman, with love
y mother has a very complex
relationship with cows. Also with me. She grew up on a dairy farm, doing thick-booted chores in poop and milk drippings before dawn, fantasizing, while she mucked, of escaping to dance like a swan in the spotlight at Lincoln Center. Three days after her seventeenth birthday, instead of buying a dozen eggs and a jar of apple butter, she kept walking and used her grocery money plus what she’d hoarded over the years for a bus ticket. She never got onto the stage at Lincoln Center, but she did wait tables across the street for a few years, taking ballet classes and watching performances from the back with standing room tickets scraped from her tips. One night, the man standing beside her asked if she’d like a cup of coffee after. They got married, moved here, decorated the kitchen with a cow theme, and had me who might someday dance in the spotlight at Lincoln Center.
The only cows I know are pot holders and ceramic spoon handles. Milk comes from a carton, and I’m allergic to it. But every morning, my mother wakes me up before dawn to do my stretching, and although I don’t fantasize about standing in poop instead, my mind does wander.
My mother is very proud of me.
I’m just like her.
started ballet six years ago, and
from the first day of class, I was obsessed. Outside of the ballet studio, I was just a gawky, frizz-headed, stuttering first grader; once class started, the work was hard but clear—straighter, longer, higher, slower. Grace. Ballet made sense to me like nothing else in the muddled, rushed world. I just knew how to do it. My brother, Paul, was two and already talking, so smart and cute like he still is, like Mom, so different from me. Dance class meant no words for an hour, relief. I was nuts for it—I listened only to ballet music and practiced until my legs shook.
, I used to say to myself, falling asleep. Ballerina.
But now I’m in seventh grade—maybe my favorite musician shouldn’t be Tchaikovsky anymore. Maybe I should be eating cookies, even slouching occasionally, or crossing my legs (which I never do—it works against turn-out)—enough adagios, I think sometimes; I should be trudging with my friends though the mall on a Saturday, eating Gummi Bears, wearing a Boggs Bobcats soccer jersey with number five on the back. But then I lift myself up onto the tips of my toes and imagine waiting in the wings for my entrance. It’s hard to know which I want more.
I came up here to my room after dinner tonight to try to figure it out. I told Mom and Dad and Paul I couldn’t play catch with them because I had to work on my project for school tomorrow, but instead I’d stopped thinking and was just forcing my turn-out up on
, pressing the backs of my knees toward each other, listening to the beautiful
sound my brand-new toe shoes made
against my wood floor.
My door opened and almost slammed me in the face. Mom.
“Ooo!” she said, at the same time as I said the same exact thing. “Phew,” she breathed, her hand up near her long, graceful neck, like whenever she’s nervous or startled. “So? How’s it going?”
“Good,” I said. “Fine.” I stood in fifth position flat on the floor. Mom smiled down toward my feet, at the toe shoes I wasn’t supposed to be trying on before getting my teacher’s OK. “I just, I . . .”
“I always did that, too,” Mom said. “How do they feel?”
“Perfect,” I said. We had just bought them a few hours earlier, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the cool pink satin.
She smiled. “Great. They look so beautiful.” She stood behind me, her fingertips gentle on my waist, and we looked at me in the mirror—my new pink leg warmers over pale pink tights, my new skinny-strap leotard, maroon, because now I’m in performance level. “I’m so proud of you,” Mom said. “Level Three.”
I balanced my head light on my shoulders, eyes steady and front. Not everyone gets invited up to Level Three.
“It really shows all the work you’ve been putting in is paying off.”
“Maybe,” I said, letting myself smile for a second. “I can’t do soccer, though.”
“I know,” Mom said. “That’ll be hard, huh?”
“Yeah,” I said, lowering myself down to flat feet. “Not, not that I’m any good at soccer, but . . .”
“But any time you go against the crowd, it’s hard,” Mom agreed.
“Mmm.” I rolled my head around to loosen up my neck.
“Well, when you get to be a Polichinelle this winter, and when your career blossoms like Darci Kistler’s did . . .”
“If,” I corrected, looking at the poster of Darci Kistler on my wall, daring to wonder for a second if I could ever have a career like hers. If I could, would it be worth giving up stomping around with my friends in the mud after school and taking the late bus home? Five dance classes a week is so much. Four days a week. It really means I can’t do anything else.
Mom kissed my hair. “I have every confidence in you.” She went over and sat down on my bed, her posture, as always, perfect but relaxed. I sat on the floor and pulled off my toe shoes, nestled them carefully inside each other, and slipped them into their white mesh bag. My mother looks like a young Jessica Lange—soft curls, soft features, soft eyes; casual but glamorous at the same time. I don’t look like any movie stars. I look like my dad—deep-set eyes and a little blotchy.
As she straightened my pillows, Mom asked, “So? What are you putting in besides your toe shoes?”
My project for school, which I was supposedly working on, is to choose ten things that represent who I am and put them in the paper bag Mrs. Shepard, my English/social studies teacher, gave out Friday. Bring Yourself in a Sack, Mrs. Shepard called it. Of course the first thing I thought of was my new toe shoes. I hadn’t gotten much beyond that with fifteen hours left before school tomorrow. There was a lot else on my mind.
“Um,” I said, trying to think. I’m not a really quick thinker. “Well . . .” I slipped the toe shoes inside my Sack, on my desk.
Mom waited patiently. When I started going to Speech in first grade, Mom and Dad learned to wait patiently without helping or encouraging or even nodding.
“My ring,” I said, holding up my left hand. My new friendship ring had slipped a little to the side, so the knot was hiding against my pinkie. I fixed it.
Mom came over and took my hand in hers. “Let me look at it again.”
Of course, she had already inspected it thoroughly, as soon as she picked me up from getting them with my new best friend, Zoe Grandon, this afternoon. “It’s so beautiful,” Mom said again, just like she had this afternoon. I didn’t mind, though. Every time I look at it, that’s what I think, too. It’s so beautiful.