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About Blue Davis
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Copyright © 2016 by Blue Davis
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Every woman at the Moskvina Ballet Academy has one dream: to dance among the best on the Moscow Theater stage. Winter was no exception. She could easily claim she was sharper or more skilled than the rest, but they have their shit together too. Competition was fierce. Every student worked day and night to develop their talent and skill to a level far above the herd. Then they worked even harder just to be noticed by the Company.
Today was the day…the day they would find out if they would rise to the top and join the Moskvina Ballet Company, or be left behind, drowning in a pool of unachieved dreams. Announcements were random and rare. All students simply worked their asses off all the time, with full faith that they could be the next one to be chosen at any moment. Swollen feet, blisters, and bruises didn’t stop even the feeblest of dancers.
I’ll get in, or I’ll die trying. She gripped the barre through sweaty palms and propped her leg on it to stretch. She glanced in the mirror. At 5’5”, 99 pounds she looked petite. But her hard, lean muscle proved otherwise. Sturdy, yet graceful, she was probably the strongest female in the room. She smoothed the straps of her athletic black leotard and stretched her arm overhead.
The studio was a huge wooden-floored room with one long barre on one side and a large mirror in front. The school sat on a noisy street in the heart of Moscow, alongside the main theater next door. Many great legends had walked through the doors and practiced on the very same floor she did.
If they can do it, I can do it.
The door swung open. The instructor, Inga Petrov marched in with a clear plastic box and threw it on the floor. She straightened her long black sweater and peered around the room. Inga was a small, brown-haired instructor who had been Russia’s premiere ballerina for two decades. She was ultra-famous. It was an honor to dance under her instruction.
“Ladies,” she said, in thick Russian accent. Her golden-brown hair was tightened into a bun. She stared at them over her reading glasses. “As you all know, we will be making the announcement today. Soon you will find out if you have been chosen to join the prestigious Moskvina Ballet Company or if you are…not ready. When you all arrived on my doorstep, I provided you with the tools you needed to be the best you could. But it has always been up to you to decide if you were going to be the best you could be. It is up to you to make something of yourself. Today we will find out who has done their best. I have no control over the decision making. I am merely a teacher here, so please do not cry to me about the results. I cannot control your future. Only you will determine your destiny. That being said, the director will come at ten o’clock with their decision. Until then we have work to do ladies,” she said, clapping her hands. “Everyone come into…” Her voice drowned out.
I want this. Three years working my ass off here. And before that, in New York, working my ass off there. It is mine. They have to give this to me. They must.
Winter moved to the center of the room with the other girls as they began their warm-up. They practiced their basic port de bras, tendus, and plies.
The combination of anticipation plus workout contributed to the tiny beads of sweat that prodded at her upper lip.
She glanced at the other girls. Some faces looked anxious, others looked more determined than ever. All eyes had a certain sparky alertness that could only come from the feeling of not knowing whether today would be the beginning of their rest of their lives, or whether they would remain stuck in the same--the rehearsing that seemed to have no end. They were poised like sprinters at the start line, willing to do whatever it took at the shot of the gun.
She turned her attention to her roommate’s long black hair. Song dressed her tiny graceful body in a conservative short-sleeve pink leotard, along with some white tights and pale pink slippers. Song’s arms were twice as dainty as her own.
They had assigned Winter and Song to room together since they could understand each other. Song’s first language was Chinese, but she spoke English well. They both learned Russian to a conversational level within a couple years, but they still partnered them together for everything. Song was Winter’s main friend here.
Winter shifted her eyes back to Inga.
“Okay ladies, put your shoes on, time for free-form,” the instructor called out.
Winter turned around and headed to her gym bag. She slipped off her ballet slippers and reached for her pointe shoes, glancing at her feet. They were bruised and battered, veins and abrasions forming a map of torment. She slipped the pointe shoes over her feet and laced them up. Two other sets of pointe shoes stood in front of her. She looked up.
Anna and Petya looked down at her, their eyes focused with curiosity.
Winter stood up and straightened the back of her leotard, while she greeted them. “Hi girls.”
Anna towered over her with her long blond hair wrapped into a bun. She sported a lace black leotard. She was pretty and her skill embraced perfection. She was the envy of most of the women at the school. She smiled as she smoothed back a few fallen blond hairs. She looked in the mirror and straightened her bun. “Winter,” she said, crossing her arms. “I have a new batch of hair, skin, and nails vitamins that will help grow your hair. Would you like?”
A couple laughs echoed nearby.
Winter lowered her head as she poked some kinky strands of dark brown hair back in to a bun. She frowned. The constant mocking still stung her.
The instructor’s daughter, Petya smiled at her friend’s comment. “Shhh,” she said to her friend, holding a finger to her pink lips. “You should not pick on the disadvantaged.”
Winter laughed. “This isn’t Latin fitness. I’m not here to wave my hair around. But now that you mentioned it, I am rather happy that my hair can at least hold a curl,” she said.
Anna grinned. “Okay, girl. You are funny.”
Petya smirked. “Russian men like their women with beautiful, long, straight hair so they can play with it and pull it when they are making love to you.” Petya was a tall, pale girl, with long, light brown hair. Her shoulders looked awkwardly bony in her white leotard.
Winter lifted her chin and flashed her most winning smile at Petya. “I’m not trying to get a man. I’m trying to become a world-class ballerina. Maybe you should give it a try too.”
“Girls!” Inga called out toward the ballerinas.
“We are just joking,” Anna said, as she tapped her on the shoulder. “You are always a good sport. Do not take it too seriously.”
“I don’t,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
The two girls swiveled around and pranced onto the center of the floor.
She peeked again at her reflection in the mirror, then looked wearily at Song. “They were pointing at me yesterday in the bathroom when I was flat-ironing it. They were smirking and laughing as usual,” she said to her roommate.
Song laced up her left shoe and stood up. “Do not worry for them. They are too jealous. Keep your eye on ballet.” She pouted her lip and pointed at her own two eyes, then pointed at the studio floor.
“Oh, I’m not worried about them. I didn’t get to where I am today by being worried about these bitches. I’m halfway out the door. I’m just waiting for them to call my name.”
Song looked nervously at Winter, then offered a smile.
“But thanks for the good words anyway,” Winter said, lifting her shoulders. She turned her attention to Inga and began to follow her lead. Inga’s graceful movements had Winter in awe every day. She was a middle-aged ballerina that hadn’t been on the stage in over a decade, yet she could out-dance all of them any day of the week. Winter stared at her and tried to match her movements exactly.
Inga examined Winter’s body form, then pouted her lips. “Torso up, Winter. You are a ballerina, not a walrus,” she scolded.
Winter inhaled and squeezed her abs in tighter.
The teacher came over and stood directly in front of her. She gripped Winter’s shoulder and pulled it back while her other hand pressed on her ribcage. “Up,” she said. She wrinkled her eyebrows and stared at Winter’s body. “Are you gaining weight?” She stood back and peered at Winter’s chest and hips. “You are becoming too fat. Be careful, or you will lose your academy position faster than you can eat your next piece of cake.”
The room silenced.
“Yes, Inga,” she said. No use trying to hide it. She was three pounds over when she weighed herself yesterday, and now everybody knew. She suddenly wanted to crawl back in bed. All eyes pierced through her spine, while whispers surrounded her ears like a dark cloud.
Less blini, more celery sticks and coffee.
“Okay, time to work, girls. We only have one and a half weeks before the performance. We want to look in tip-top shape,” her high voice rang out. She glared at Winter. “No more cake for you. Save it for after the performance,” she said, as she marched away.
The girls surrounded her, howling in laughter.
Winter’s head sunk lower.
The door opened. The room silenced.
Ivan, the director strolled in. He had short graying hair and eyelids that covered most of his blue pupils. He looked permanently tired in his older gray suit, but raised his eyebrows as he looked around the room, offering a curt smile. He held some notecards in his hand.
The room erupted into a murmur of noise.
He raised one arm up.
“Shhh,” said a couple of the girls from the back.
“Ladies, Ivan is here for the special announcement. Please stop your mindless chattering and draw your attention to him,” Inga said.
The room quieted again.
He cleared his throat and held a notecard up to eye level. Then he put them down at his side. “As you know, today is the day where we will ask a few of you to graciously take one step up to the next level. It is a day to be celebrated whether you move to the stage or not. Why? Because it is your peers that we are congratulating. The girls you have stood with for the past three years are now being asked to join the Company, and it would not have been possible without you. It is a moment to celebrate our triumph together,” he said, bending his elbow to raise his fist. He brought it down quickly as he looked at confused faces.
Inga stood next to him, her lips formed into a thin smile. She cocked her head to the side and tapped her foot. She stared at the cards in his hand, then smiled at her daughter.
Petya smiled confidently at her mother, then turned her attention back to the director.
He continued. “Let this day not separate you from the winners. Let it mark the day where we all move forward—either to the stage, or to further commit to work on your purpose in life. There is no defeat. There is only ‘try and try again’, until you succeed. Without further delay, let me read our new additions to the corps de ballet.” He held the card at eye level.
Winter planted her feet on the ground, crossed her fingers, and waited for her name.
A gasp and a small clap erupted from the center of the floor. Anastasia, lifted the back of her hand up to her forehead and smiled. Another girl patted her on the back. She laughed and put her hand over her mouth to cover it up.
Anna stepped forward immediately, did a courtesy bow, then laughed and turned around to wave at her fans. Now they had one more reason to be jealous.
Winter swallowed. Her pores broke into a sweat. Please tell me I’m in.
Petya smiled and gave Anna a brief hug, then looked up at the director again.
Anna put her hand on her chest and closed her eyes. She looked ecstatic.
Winter could sense the sheer happiness flowing from her colleague’s shoulders. She studied her, then stepped forward and tapped her on the shoulder. “Congratulations, Anna. You worked hard for this.”
Anna peered at her. “Thank you, but you did too. You also should be going.”
I know. Call my name…Winter Monroe. Say it.
“And our last and final attendee is….” He shuffled through his set of cards, then looked up, flustered. “Oh. Uh, I’m afraid we only have two from this class.” He stuffed the last card in his pocket.
The entire room erupted in chatter. “Well, maybe next time,” she heard someone say. Her eyes stung. She squinted at the ceiling to hold the tears back.
She glanced at Song’s disappointed face. Song’s head and shoulders hung toward her feet. She looked up and frowned at the rest of the girls.
She deserved it too. We all did.
Inga frowned and blotted the edge of her eye as she looked wistfully at her daughter. “Congratulations girls,” she said to Anna and Anastasia in a dry voice. “You two have worked hard, and you deserve to enter the Company.” She turned to the center of the class. “Break time. Please be back in one hour for your afternoon session. Do not be late.” She rushed over to console Petya, who was now in tears.
Winter scoffed. Don’t be late? For what? More practice? Winter yanked off her slippers and tossed them into her bag. She threw her bag on her shoulder and marched through the crowd of hugs and tears. Then she covered her mouth and ran down the corridor.
She shot upstairs and made her way to her dorm room at the end of the hall. She peered at the splintered door through watered eyes, then keyed open the door. Once inside, she quietly shut herself in. Tears streamed down her face. She rested her head on the back of the door and sobbed.
“Oh. You eat lunch in here too,” a voice said behind her. She gasped and turned around.
It was Song, though she didn’t sound like her usual self.
Song lay on her bed, curled in a ball towards the wall, gripping a pillow tight.
Winter wiped her wet face. She opened her mouth, but only air came out. More tears came. “I can’t…I can’t…”
Song sighed and looked wistfully at the blank wall in front of her. “Yes. It is awful. It has been three years here like this, waiting, and waiting. One of the girls that was selected is not even good.”
“Anastasia,” Song whispered, pointing to the door.
Winter inhaled and wiped away some of the wetness. “I’m sure she worked just as hard as the rest of us. Maybe she just did one thing better and they saw it and rewarded her for it.”
“It is not fair. I work so hard. And for nothing. My mother is in China. She also works hard for me to be here,” she said.
“And it’s well worth her efforts, because you are going to make it big. If not this year, then the next. You’ll see, Song.”
“What about your parents? Do they have money for next year?”
Winter bit her lip and dried the side of her face on the back of her hand. “Absolutely. This is just a small chunk of change for my parents. They love to spend money on their daughters. We are their pride and joy.” She sniffled and looked at Song.
Song’s eyes were dim.
Winter’s shoulders fell. “And I know your mother is proud, as well.” She put a hand on Song’s shoulder. “She’ll send the money, Song.”
“Maybe. I begin to lose hope. They are always choosing Russian girl,” she said, pouting.
“Well, they have been coming here much longer than us. We just need to work harder to prove our worth. We have one more year. We’ll get in, Song. We just need to stick together and make sure they notice us,” Winter said.
“Yes and have thick skin.” She frowned, staring at the wall.
“Yeah, and have thick feet too,” Winter said, half smiling.
Song chuckled, wiping her face. She pushed herself up and reached for the nightstand.
Winter stepped forward, pulled a tissue from a pink box and gave it to her.
“Thank you,” Song said, lifting herself up. “I’m going to look for Anastasia. Maybe her success will rub off on me. Are you coming?”
Winter blew her nose and dried more tears. “Uh, yeah, I’ll join you in a sec.”
Song stepped out in to the hallway and closed the door.
To watch another girl claim victory is the last thing I want to do right now. She moved a blanket to the side and sat on the bed.
A tap on the door startled her.
She looked up, yanked another tissue out of the box and ran to the door. She blotted the corners of her eyes, then eased the door open.
The director stood in the hallway. He looked at her through half-open eyes.
What is he doing here? “Oh. Hi…Ivan.” She straightened her back and cleared her throat. “Are you looking for Anastasia? She’s in the next room.”
He smiled briefly and glanced at his watch. “Nope. We need to have an urgent meeting in my office. Come with me, please.”
She stared at him blankly. “Are you sure you have the right person? I’m Winter.”
He smiled. “Why wouldn’t you be the right person?”
She said nothing.
“I’ve spoken to your instructor and let her know that you will be getting back late.”
“Am I in trouble? What’s going on? I…I haven’t done anything,” she said, as her shoulders rose to her ears.
He smiled with one side of his mouth and shook his head. “All of your questions will be answered in my office.”
She dropped her hands by her side. “Okay,” she said, facing him.
They walked along the empty corridor until they passed the lounge on the right.
Anna and Petya glared at them from a dark blue cloth sofa. Petya’s eyes were swollen and red. Anna touched Petya’s arm, then whispered in her ear. They both narrowed their eyes on to Winter and the director.
Winter rolled her eyes and followed the director in to the administrative wing of the building.
The building was old and badly needed repair. The brown, wooden baseboards were chipped and the walls scuffed.
He unlocked the door and swung it open.
She stepped inside.
He closed it behind her. “Have a seat,” he said. “Would you prefer English?”
She sat on the edge of the striped orange and beige chair. “Yes, please.”
He smiled. “Good,” he said, walking around the edge of his desk. He sat down in a black leather chair, then opened a drawer. He brought out a small tin box. He opened it. “Would you like one?”
Inside were a bundle of white mints.
“No thank you.”
“I’m sure you’re anxious to know why I’ve brought you here.”
“I am,” she said. Sweat began to prod at her underarms. What the hell did I do wrong? Just tell me. Please.
“As you are aware, we’ve just made our decision on who will enter the Company this year. It was a difficult decision, as there are many fine and talented ballerinas here at the facility.”
“Yes, there are. But I’m sure the board as chosen the ones they think will fit in the best.”