22. El Dreaming

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"All right, let's run it again from the top!"

Mrs. Audrey turned to adjust the music as the Level 5 girls scrambled to their places. From opposite sides of the room, Becca and I exchanged quick smiles. Watching the little girls practice the dance we'd choreographed was way more rewarding than I'd thought.

The opening notes of the Don Quixote music streamed through the speakers, and the girls all jumped into the center of the room at the same time. Choppily, they performed the set of steps I remembered slaving over during classes, then moved into a cannon sequence.

In the center of the room, El was smiling as she danced, not caring that her toes weren't pointed and her legs weren't straight. I didn't care, either. I didn't even care that she was on the wrong foot for her jeté. It was much better to see someone having fun than someone who danced perfectly, anyway.

The song progressed, with the Level 5 girls performing small series of turns and jumps. There was a slow single pirouette that we'd inserted in the middle of the dance, and I could see the frustration on El's face as she completed it. She had triple pirouettes down to an art--somehow, she was a natural turner--and even though the rest of her dancing wasn't always the most graceful, turns were her forté. She clearly wanted to try something harder than a single.

As the music ended and the girls scurried to their respective sides of the room, I applauded along with the rest of the Level 8 dancers. All the little girls beamed and smiled as we congratulated them and--in Carter's case--patted them on the head. I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or serious when he did it.

"Great work!" exclaimed Mrs. Audrey, clapping loudest of all. "It's time for class to be over, so come center of a quick reverence and then you all can go. I'm sure the older dancers want to get to their practice, too."

Reverence consisted of curtsies that the dancers executed with little-girlish enthusiasm, and then they happily trotted out of the dance room. I stood, stretched, and then followed them out, glancing at the wall clock as I left. My technique class started in five minutes, and then I had rehearsals for Sleeping Beauty. Wednesday nights were the nights I practiced my part as the Bluebird--the part I'd probably play.

The part I'd play if Paige was Aurora.

There was a tug at my hand, and I glanced down to see El smiling up at me. She tugged her blonde hair out of its messily assembled bun and then asked, "Can I watch your class?"

"Of course!" I replied. Her innocence made me melt. "As long as it's okay with your parents and Mrs. Ava."

El nodded fiercely. "It is. But..." She leaned in conspiratorially and said, "I don't want to watch Paige. She's mean."

"She's mean," I agreed, "But she's very talented. You should watch her."

There was a short silence, and I glanced down to see El staring at the floor. She stared up at me with wide blue eyes and then said softly, "I wish I were talented."

I didn't know what to say for a second. The truth would be that El probably wasn't the most talented girl at the studio, but she had the determination and spirit to make it far. And what's more, if I told her that, it would break her heart.

"Oh, but you are talented!" I exclaimed. "I still can't turn a triple pirouette. Are you calling me untalented?"

"No." El let go of my hand to fix her hair, running her fingers through it as she spoke. "But you're so graceful. And I heard you got invited to boarding school! Plus," she added matter-of-factly, as if what she was about to say was most important of all, "You're dating the most talented person here. That makes you talented, too, because he wouldn't date someone who wasn't."

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