Freeing Grace

Just a short little chapter, I guess. I'm SO SORRY I've been so inactive-- school started a few weeks ago, and I haven't had time to write on Quibblo! Don't worry, I'm still receiving your messages and invitations though. Looking forwards to a great year! (I hope!)

This isn't my best work, but bear with me. :3 Rates and comments appreciated!

Chapter 1

Giving Up

The way her arms curved as she slid through the air, fluid as music, drew my eyes away from my reflection in the dance room mirror and toward the adjoining doorway.

Every girl at New York's Archnova dance company wanted to be her. Grace Hale, the pride of the company, whom even the instructors knew would go on to do great things. They said that Grace, at sixteen, already had Julliard scouts panting after her every performance.

I watched her now. Her dark hair caught the room's scant light as she slowly lowered herself into a meticulous plie, chin lifted, so that the brown skin on her neck elongated, swanlike and as graceful as her name. Her fluttering eyelids cast shadows upon her sharp, angular cheekbones.

"McKenna," I heard the admonishing voice of Mrs. Bartlett, my dance instructor. My eyes flew back to my reflection in the mirror: average height, average weight, light cocoa hair, dark cocoa eyes. Ordinary in every way. A huge difference from stunning Grace Hale. "Where is your focus today?"

I mumbled something, hoping that strict Mrs. Bartlett would let me off. Lately I had been losing interest in dance, something that I never thought would happen. When I began taking classes at Archnova, I was so enraptured with it, so enamored, that I hardly thought as I was at the studio more and more. Ballet classes-- I had graduated into my pointes already, and now I looked down at them. Almost worn-out at the toe.

"Miss Abbey, are you listening? If you do not have discipline, you will never learn to dance." Mrs. Bartlett's voice jerked me out of my thoughts, but I refused to look at her, instead deciding to glance again through the open doorway, where Grace was taking a sip of water. As if by magic, she looked up and saw me staring. Her eyes caught mine. I immediately burned red. But did not break her gaze.

I was aware of the class staring at me, a class of fourteen- to fifteen-year-olds, all bewildered as to why I was ignoring the formidable Mrs. Bartlett. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Bartlett," I opened my mouth at last. "It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't, McKenna," she replied. Her back turned.

When class ended, I unlaced my pointe shoes with care. They had been my companions for a while now-- at least a month, possibly more. But I touched the tip of the shoe, feeling the paper-thin stiff material. When these shoes wear out, I resolved, I will tell my mother that I don't want to dance any longer.

I sighed and packed the pointe shoes away, slipping on my beaten sneakers and making my way outside. It was already quite empty, the only people left being me and two others, standing at the opposite end of the entrance, waiting for their rides. I had lingered for longer than I had thought.

I started towards home. New York was less busy now that rush hour was over, but I was still swept along by the moving crowd. I was halfway home when I heard a small noise. A wet, sniffling small noise.

I cocked my head. There is was again, another small sob that sounded so familiar to me. Deciding to break off from the crowd, I followed the noise into a small side street, quieter than the metropolitan New York City scene I knew.

On a small bench sat Grace. I tried to stifle my speeding heart as I made my way to her. Tears were dripping down her face.

"Uh, hello?" I started when she looked up at me. A flicker of recognition appeared on her face.

"Hey." Grace took a breath, trying to collect herself. To my surprise, I did not feel starstruck, as I usually did when I saw her. When she was crying, she seemed... vulnerable. Human. Approachable.

"Are you okay, Grace?"

She looked at me. "I think I am." The tears were already drying, and I wondered where they came from.

"Oh," I said. Awkward. "You'll be okay, then?"

"No, I won't be!" She finally burst with a torrent of fresh tears, and I did not know what to do other than to comfort her, putting a hand on her back and digging a pack of tissues from my dance bag. "I'm so sorry. But-- it's McKenna, right?"

"McKenna Abbey," I confirmed. I felt trembly inside.

"McKenna, I want to tell you something. Don't ever quit dancing. You're the best they have, after I..."

I stiffened. Her words eerily echoed what I was thinking earlier, but coming from her mouth, they took on a whole different meaning. "Grace... you aren't thinking of quitting dance, are you? Because I'm not the best they have. You are. You're already on a sure path to Julliard."

Grace started crying again, but the quiet tears you get when you can't summon up the energy to cry. "That's what they say. But it's too much. I can't stand it, being locked in that dance room and going through the same motions, over and over, and let others take down what I've tried so hard to build."

"I don't understand," I said. "Everyone at Archnova wants to be you. To be you, Grace."

"No, that can't be true. I give up at everything. You don't understand because nobody could possibly get it," Grace said with a hiccup. I knew we were attracting stares, but I handed her a tissue.

"Listen to me. If you can't take the pressure, don't give up."

"Like you believe that," Grace said, her eyes sad. "I see in it your eyes. You want to quit, too, don't you?"

"I--" I started helplessly.

"Well, I'm here to say no. Don't stop dancing, please." Grace stared into the distance. "The pressure is too much for me, but for you? You deserve the applause. You deserve everything-- just because I'm weak doesn't mean you are, too."

"You're not weak," I insisted. "If you think ballet is too much pressure, switch to modern!"

"There's something in that," she sniffled. "To start over, to rebuild."

"To begin again," I added. "Just... Grace, please. Don't quit dance. Do it for me, do it for the company... Please. Dance is something special to you, I can tell, and taking it away would mean a life of lost opportunity."

Grace was silent. Her eyes were dubious and tear-filled.

My phone rang, and I jumped. "Just a second, " I said to Grace, humiliated.
I backed away and picked up the phone. It was my mother, wondering where I was. I told her I was safe and I'd be back soon, and I walked away from Grace's bench after a hasty goodbye.

As soon as I turned my back, I wanted to wheel right back around. But I couldn't, and walked home with the burden of a secret on my back.

~~

The next day, I went to Archnova, Grace's words still ringing in my ears. The lobby was abuzz as usual, and I made my way to the signup sheets, just because.

Ballet 5A, the bulletin board proclaimed. Under it, I saw a crossed-out name. Grace Hale's careful hand was crossed with a thick band of black marker.

So it was true. My knees suddenly felt weak. She was quitting, quitting on a lifetime of dreams.

But there was another paper tacked up to the board, and I took a closer look at it.

Modern Dance, the bulletin board read. Signups begin today!

Under the first slot I saw Grace Hale's name in her signature cursive.
Under that, I saw a little note.

McKenna,
You were right. I could never separate myself from dance, even if it means beginning again.

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