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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

I Wanna Be Where You Are

Kristina Forest

Roaring Brook Press

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Chapter 1

For the Greater Good


SATURDAY

Here’s something you should know about me: I’m a terrible daughter.

“For the thousandth time, Chloe, you are not a terrible daughter,” my best friend, Reina, groans on the other end of the phone. “We’ve talked about this, remember? What did we say?”

I lie back on my bed and stare at the poster of Avery Johnson on my ceiling. It’s a still of him as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. He’s wearing white tights and a white tunic with gold and silver trimming. His brown skin is shiny with sweat. His knees are bent and his arms are outstretched, waiting for Odette, the beautiful white swan, to waltz toward him. I’ve spent countless nights staring at this poster, dreaming that it was me he would twirl in his arms. And now that the opportunity to meet him is finally here, I’m lying on my bed, frozen, because I’m terrified to lie to my mom.

“Chloe,” Reina prods. “What did we say?”

I sigh. “We said that the plan is for the greater good.”

“Right, so put your mom on the phone. I’ll pretend to be my mom, and I’ll tell her you’re staying at my house for the week like we planned. You’ll go to your audition and she’ll never know the difference.”

I roll over and cover my face with my pillow. “But what if it doesn’t work?”

Reina gasps. “Are you seriously doubting my natural-born thespian talent?”

“I don’t mean that,” I say. Reina takes being an actress very seriously. She’s a chameleon who can be anything, anyone. I’ve witnessed her imitate her mom’s Dominican accent more times than I can count, so I have no doubt she’ll be convincing. “I mean, what if we’re lying to her for no reason? What if I get to the audition and I freeze up, or I get lost on the highway, or I forget to put on deodorant and my armpits stink every time I lift my arms, or—”

“CHLOE.” Reina’s voice cuts through my downward spiral. “Put your mom on the phone or you can kiss your dreams of being a professional ballerina good-bye.”

That makes me jerk out of bed. “Hold on.”

I walk to my mom’s room and take a deep breath before I open her door. I never lie to her. Ever. I’ve never had a reason to. I’m a girl who goes to school, goes to dance class, has only one best friend, and watches YouTube clips of ballet performances from the 1970s for fun. I don’t even have a curfew because I never go anywhere. I especially never drive alone to another state for a dance audition without telling my mom.

This is a mistake. The worst idea I’ve ever had. In the dictionary, you will see my photograph right next to the word idiotic because—

“Hey, baby,” Mom says, opening her bedroom door. “Do you have Reina’s mom on the phone?”

“Yes.” My voice is high-pitched like I just sucked helium out of a balloon.

“Okay.” She looks at the phone in my hand, waiting. Quickly, before I can change my mind, I place it in her palm.

“Hello?” Mom says as she presses the phone to her ear. “Yes, hi, Camila. I’m doing well. How are you?”

I let out a shaky breath. Mom walks toward her bed, and I follow her, stepping around the open suitcase and clothes strewn across her floor. This morning she’s leaving for a weeklong cruise with her boyfriend. This is nothing short of a miracle. The only time Mom ever leaves New Jersey is when she’s taking me to ballet class in Philadelphia.

I sit on the edge of her bed as she crouches down to throw more clothes in her suitcase. “I don’t want Chloe to be a burden to you,” she says to Mrs. Acosta/Reina. “I’m really grateful that you’re letting her stay with you while I’m away.” She reaches up and pushes her long braids out of her face. They’re so tight that if she moves her head too quickly, she winces in pain. She usually wears her hair in a short Afro. I walk over and tie her braids into a ponytail. She smiles at me gratefully. I feel another pang of guilt, and I turn away because I’m afraid she’ll know something is up just by looking at me.

It’s April and this week is spring break. Mom thinks I’ll be spending it around the corner at Reina’s house. Reina is actually spending the week working at a kids’ theater day camp, and today I’m really auditioning for a spot with Avery Johnson’s ballet conservatory, a preprofessional dance school for teens. I’ll spend the rest of the week at home, most likely replaying the audition over and over in my mind. Although the audition is in Washington, D.C., the conservatory is in New York City, a city that Mom would never let me live in by myself. To be honest, I don’t think she’ll ever let me live anywhere alone. No matter how old I get.

I don’t want to lie to her, but I have to. Last month, Miss Dana, my ballet teacher at the Philadelphia Center for Dance, pulled me aside and showed me the conservatory audition schedule.

“You need to be there, Chloe,” she said, pointing to the New York City audition date. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “If you do well, there’s a chance they’ll offer you an apprenticeship with the company.”

Me, Chloe Pierce, a seventeen-year-old Black girl living in the middle of nowhere, New Jersey, could spend all of senior year in New York City, learning from Avery Johnson, the youngest Black dancer to start his own ballet company, and now his own conservatory? And afterward, if I was offered an apprenticeship with the company, I’d be one step closer to becoming a professional.

“And thanks to a few generous donors, the conservatory is offering scholarships to everyone accepted in its first year,” Miss Dana continued. “Your mom won’t have to pay a cent. You should take this chance, Chloe.”

I looked down at the scar on my left ankle and felt doubtful.

“You’ve trained so hard these past few months,” Miss Dana went on. “You’ve got to do it.”

She was right. There was no way I would pass up auditioning for Avery Johnson.

It’s too bad Mom wasn’t on the same page. She wasn’t excited about the audition. Instead, she tried her best to conceal a horrified expression when Miss Dana spoke to her after class.

“New York City isn’t really in our plans,” she said.

Miss Dana looked as disappointed as I felt. She’d trained me for this moment since I was thirteen. She tried to convince Mom that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The conservatory was only for high school students. I wouldn’t be able to audition next spring, as a senior. But Mom wasn’t swayed.

“I’d really appreciate it if you could help Chloe look into some college dance programs,” she said. “Maybe at some of the colleges nearby.”

College? Why would I want to go to college when I could be a professional ballerina? Why would I waste all the time I spent working so hard? All the physical therapy and tears.

“But—Mom—” I stammered. My mouth opened and closed like a dying fish’s.

“No,” she said firmly. And that was that.

Miss Dana slipped the schedule into my hand as Mom and I left. “In case she changes her mind,” she whispered.

But I knew Mom wouldn’t change her mind. She has her reasons for wanting to keep me close. My dad died in a car accident when I was three years old, and I think she has this irrational fear that something just as terrible will happen to me. It doesn’t help that a year and a half ago, I nearly got hit by a car and ended up with a broken ankle. After my ankle healed, Mom almost didn’t let me come back to ballet because she thought I’d be under too much pressure. Her tendency to be cautious had never really bothered me until I realized she definitely wouldn’t let me move to New York City alone, even if it meant my dreams would be crushed.


Text copyright © 2019 by Kristina Forest