Chapter Four

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Therese glanced at the windows. The sun had set an hour or so before, but she could make out the faint glow of the street lights through the wet panes of glass. If she held her breath, she could hear the sharp strike of sleet on the panes. As much as she loved The Nutcracker, she despised the weather that often came along with it.

She grabbed her bag and switched off the lights in the room. The last of the students had gone home for the day, and only Luca and Julia, their Sugarplum Fairy, remained with Vasily in one of the smaller classrooms. Even through the walls, she could hear the music. The pas de deux from Act Two, between the Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier.

The hallway, stuffed with children and teenagers only a few minutes before, was now deserted. There were bobby pins scattered across the carpet, along with the wrappers from candy bars and a few empty potato chip bags. She shook her head and began picking up the mess, along with a couple of stray pointe shoes and a lone legwarmer she tossed into the lost and found.

Her keys were already in her hand when she walked past the last classroom, the lights and music spilling out into the hall. She was going to walk straight through the door, across the parking lot, get into her car, and drive home. That was her plan. And then, she raised her chin, and looked toward the open classroom door, and her carefully laid plan fell apart before it even had a chance.

She stood outside the doorway, her gaze switching between the mirrors and the two dancers reflected in them.

"Again," Vasiliy said, and tapped his cane on the floor. "Again, again, again. Until it is right."

The music started over from the beginning. Julia stepped forward, her long legs seeming even longer beneath the stiff, white tutu she wore. Luca came up behind her as she moved into a pirouette. He would put his hands on her waist, Therese knew, playing out the choreography in her mind. She would continue to turn, and then he would lift her, as if she weighed nothing, and carry her halfway around the room before setting her down on the tips of her right toes.

At least, that's what was supposed to happen. Julia went into the pirouette, but the timing was wrong. The lift quickly fell apart, and Vasiliy turned off the music, leaving only the sound of Luca's cursing to fill the room.

"You're anticipating everything," Luca growled, running his hands through his sweat-soaked hair. "You're supposed to wait for me, not try to do all of it on your own!"

Julia looked down at her shoes. Therese followed the girl's gaze. They had been rehearsing for several hours already, and Therese thought she could see blood from Julia's overworked feet staining the pale pink satin. "I'm sorry," Julia muttered, her voice quiet.

Therese bit her lip. Julia was a strong dancer, a strong young woman, but being in the presence of someone like Luca was apparently too much for her.

"You have to trust me," Luca said, his voice still irritable. "Or this is never going to work!"

"Well, what do you expect?" Therese took a step forward before she realized what she was doing. "She's seventeen years old," she said, gesturing to an exhausted Julia. "Her only dance partners so far have been young boys who barely have the guts to touch her, let alone the strength to lift her over their heads. So of course she's trying to do it all on her own. She doesn't know anything different."

Luca's eyes blazed. They seemed to grow darker when he was angry, and yet there was a gleam in them that had probably sent other people running the other way. But Therese wasn't about to turn tail and shuffle back the way she'd come.

"This is your first rehearsal," Therese pointed out. "She needs more time."

"She doesn't need more time. She needs to listen—"

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