Chapter One

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Coffee. Therese should've stopped and grabbed a coffee before coming in to work. Her plastic water bottle crinkled in her hands. What good would plain water do for her today? Forget hydration and healthy kidneys. She needed caffeine, and plenty of it.

A loud buzz of voices greeted her as she pushed through the heavy glass doors that marked the entrance to the Southern Ohio Ballet Academy. Luca must already be here, she realized.

Inside, the halls were lined with young girls and boys. Most of them sat on the floor, the girls in black leotards and the boys in white t-shirts and black bike shorts. The girls' hair was immaculate, pinned and sprayed and twisted into neat buns and braids. Most of them had their dance bags open, piles of legwarmers and ballet slippers and granola bars spilling out onto the floor while the kids chattered and giggled with excitement.

She stepped around two girls stretching and a third buried in a mound of homework. A group of boys stood around the soda machines, half of them still dressed in their street clothes.

"Hey, Miss Therese!" one of the older boys called out, a fifteen-year-old who had yet to grow into the gangliness of his arms and legs. A couple of the other boys waved, and Therese gave them a nod in return.

She tried not to let her irritation get the better of her. It wasn't their fault she was in such a bad mood, or that she hadn't gotten more than three hours of sleep the previous night, or that she would give serious thought to tackling her grandmother for the chance at a piping hot chai latte. They were just kids. Extraordinarily talented kids who were about to get an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The classroom was already full. Mirrors lined two of the four walls, while waist-high barres ran along three. Over twenty students were busy stretching, chatting in whispered voices, or adjusting the satin ribbons that crisscrossed their ankles. Therese dropped her bag on a chair and began rifling through it for her CDs and class notes. Behind her, the students shuffled to their places. The soft sound of legwarmers and sweatshirts stripped off and tossed into piles along the edges of the walls whispered. By the time she turned around again, eighteen girls and four boys, none of them over the age of seventeen, were ready to dance.

They knew the steps, but she ran through them anyway. Plies, tendues, degage battement. Every movement was accompanied by the sound of creaking pointe shoes, of hips and knees and ankles that popped and protested against the movement and the cold, gray weather outside.

With each exercise, the lines became longer, the positions deeper, the extensions higher.

"Come to the center, please." Their warm-up finished, a few of the dancers snagged sips of water from bottles stashed behind their clothing or tucked away on the windowsills.

Therese turned back to her notes. She didn't need them today. They were beginning rehearsals after warm-up, but she looked at the pages anyway. The words scrawled across them blurred in front of her vision as she tried not to think about the next few weeks.

Behind her, the hum of whispers and giggles rose again. Of course they were wound up, she realized. Rehearsals about to begin, the weather threatening snow, school vacations on the horizon, and then there was that eensy little matter of Luca...

The voices lifted again before almost everyone in the class stopped talking at once. Therese shut her eyes as a kind of prickling raised the goose bumps on the back of her neck. A part of her wanted to be stubborn. She would simply not turn around, wait for him to go away, and then everything would go back to normal.

Except she knew that wouldn't happen. And she was standing in a room full of mirrors, so refusing to turn around seemed like it would accomplish about as much as breaking out an umbrella during a hurricane.

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