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Some parents tell their kids they can be anything. Mine did not.
I was not told that if I worked hard, my dreams would come true. Or that life was fair. Or that wishes were made of stardust, or candy canes, or were delivered by unicorns.
I was told the truth: that some people get lucky, and some people don’t, which is why I’m skipping fifth period to ride an elevator in one of swanky Uptown’s old arts buildings.
“What do you mean it’s this weekend?”
Holding my cell tightly against my ear, I drill my opposite thumb into my temple, careful not to let the four girls entering the elevator on the fifth floor see the phone’s blank screen.
They’re late. According to the Copeland Ballet Academy’s online schedule, Dance II—a requirement for all third-year students—gets out at ten to four on Mondays. Now I’ve only got twenty minutes to book it down Lake Street and catch the red line to Devon Park. If I miss it, I’m late for work at Pete’s, and that’s the last thing I need.
I’ve got five minutes to work some magic.
“No.” I sigh heavily, catching the nearest girl’s attention. She’s got to be around my age. Sixteen, maybe a year older. Everything on her copper-brown face seems stretched by the tight bun she’s wearing on the back of her head. Even her eyes seem a little too wide, like blinking takes effort. But she’s pretty. Graceful, like a ballerina.
I stand a little straighter. I can be graceful. Kind of.
From the corner of my eye, I study their outfits. Two are wearing athletic shorts over pastel tights. All have on loose cover-ups made from the kind of fabric you can’t wash in a machine. Soft, like cotton candy.
My black, shredded leggings, are reflected in every walled mirror in this tiny car, and I fight the sudden urge to glare at Wide Eyes, who looks like she’s trying to decide if my lace-up boots and camo tank top are some designer brand.
Sorry, but not everyone’s got Daddy’s credit card in their back pocket.
“No, it’s not your fault.” I hoist my messenger bag up my shoulder and speak a little louder, just over the girls’ conversation. “We knew it was coming.” I make the Life is Hard Face. Wipe away a pretend tear with the side of my thumb.
A familiar rush fills my veins, but it’s chased by a sharp prickling right beneath my collarbones, and a voice in my ear that says they don’t deserve this.
I shove it aside.
“I’ll see if I can sell the tickets,” I continue. “Don’t worry about that. Someone’s going to want them. I mean, it’s not every day the Joffrey Ballet does a recital.”
One girl elbows another. I catch the tilt of her head in the reflection of the mirrored wall. They’re all silent now, pretending to check their own phones or staring at the floor. Politely listening in on a conversation I’m only pretending to have.
“Mom, don’t worry about it. I’m not missing the funeral. I’ll … have another shot to meet David. It’s no big deal. This is more important.”
Ding. The elevator reaches the bottom floor with a gentle bounce. The gleaming metal doors part, revealing a lobby vastly different from the shiny upper levels filled by the Copeland Academy. Darkly stained wooden floors meet murals of dancers and musicians. Marble angel statues guard the upper corners. An old glass chandelier hangs from the ceiling. The building is a hundred and something years old, a historical landmark refurbished by the Sterling Foundation. At least, that’s what the sign beside the front door says.
I step out of the elevator, nearly bumping into a guy with inky-black hair. He doesn’t look up as he moves past, and I fight the urge to glare at him, instead saying a quick, “I love you,” and “I’ll see you soon,” into the powerless phone before stuffing it into my bag. Pausing for effect, I drop my head and smooth back a mess of short, dark waves, still unused to how the blunt ends feel between my fingertips. I tried to comb it down for today’s performance, but it sticks out in every direction anyhow.
“Oh, hi. Sorry. Are you all right?” It’s Wide Eyes’s friend, one of the elevator eavesdroppers. She’s got a rich, unexpected accent, which reminds me a little of this mobster movie our neighbor used to watch on full blast every night. Standing beside me, she grips the strap of the duffel bag crossed over her chest. Her dark hair is back like the others’, though it hangs in a long braid between her shoulders, the way mine used to.
I jerk my head in her direction, as if she’s caught me by surprise, and give a little sniffle.
“Yeah,” I say quickly. “Yes. I’m fine.” My short, embarrassed laugh relaxes their rigid postures as I turn to face the semicircle they’ve formed. “It’s just … my grandfather passed away, and I need to go to the funeral this weekend.”
People always go for dead grandparents. It’s one of the most universally relatable hardships.
“That’s so sad.” Wide Eyes pouts, one hand flattening over her heart. She’s faking sympathy while I’m faking the reason behind it.
There’s a nice symmetry to that.
“Thanks.” I check the gold-framed clock above the elevators. Two minutes to close the deal. My pulse begins to beat in time with the second hand.
“My mom really needs me. We were supposed to go see this recital together this weekend.”
“The Joffrey recital,” says Accent, with enough hitch to let me know I’ve got her, I just need to reel her in. The other girls look at me like I’m solid gold, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want this minute to stretch a little longer. Sometimes it’s nice to have something other people want.
“That’s right. And get this.” I lean in, and they lean in, too, ready for the secret. “I had tickets right behind David Aranoff.”
“David Aranoff? Like the director, David Aranoff?” asks Wide Eyes.
I sigh again, relieved that they recognized the name. I’d never heard of the guy before two days ago, when I’d searched Important Ballet Directors. His name was the first to come up. “Bummer, right?”
“What’s he doing in town? I thought he never left New York!” Another of the four gapes at me.
“He’s got friends here,” I say. “Maybe a lover. I don’t know.”
I giggle. She giggles.
One minute and counting.
They all look to the girl with the accent, waiting for her to take the lead.
Come on, I will her. But she doesn’t move.
She needs a little push.
“You guys wouldn’t want to buy them, would you?”
Copyright © 2019 by Kristen Simmons