27. A New Era

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Mrs. Princeton was completely flustered when I walked inside Ambler for Wednesday classes. When she saw me walk in, she hurried up to me and immediately said, "Paige's mom called last night." She paused as if she expected a reaction.

"Oh?" I replied, faking enthusiasm. "Really? Is she okay?"

"As okay as someone with a broken ankle can be." Mrs. Princeton smiled a little wryly and adjusted her thick white headband. "But she said that Paige will be back as soon as possible to watch classes. She said she's disappointed but is handling it well."

Somehow, I doubted that. Paige had probably thrown a princess-sized temper tantrum the second she'd been able to. Then, she'd probably called Carter and harassed him endlessly.

I smiled at Mrs. Princeton and nodded, then passed her on my way to the dressing room. Looking back, I saw her adjust her white headband nervously and head into her office to make a phone call.

Since I was running a little late, the dressing room was completely empty. I figured everyone had already been inside Studio C warming up and stretching for quite a while, and I hurried to get ready in time to make attendance. The sound of a stressed voice mentioning Lauren's name coming from the office, though, immediately made me freeze and perk my ears.

"...can't do it anymore. Lauren's a fantastic student but we can't keep giving her free classes." There was a brief pause before Mrs. Princeton inhaled sharply and said, "It's not that at all, Mrs. Reinhart. She's amazing. We simply cannot afford it. We are essentially giving out free classes. If we do that for one student, others will expect it. I can't keep up with it." Another pause, and I heard the office door slam. Now I could only pick out muffled voices--no words.

I bit my lip and shoved on my ballet soft slippers, trying to force my racing thoughts out of my mind. Lauren couldn't leave Ambler! It would crush her to have to give up dancing. And, even though as of only this week she'd turned from my friend back to my enemy, she was still a dancer. She lived and breathed ballet. How would she be able to give it up?

I rolled my neck a few times clockwise and a few times counterclockwise, making myself relax. I could ask Becca after class; she would know exactly what was going on. She also took jazz dancing at Ambler and so practically lived at the studio, and she was constantly caught up on the gossip.

With that decided, I pulled on my other ballet slipped and hurried to Studio C before Mrs. Ava could scold me for being late.

Inside, Riley and Becca had already taken spots at the barre together. I had to drag another barre from the wall while everyone stared at me and Mrs. Ava shot me a disapproving glance for my tardiness. She'd just put up her attendance book when I'd walked in.

I dropped the barre down a few feet away from Riley and Becca and rolled through my feet a few times to get the blood flowing. Mrs. Ava was fiddling with the music player and inventing a combination for us, her hands moving in rapid flurries.

"All right!" she said abruptly. "Let's switch up the plié combinations today. Two demis and a grand. Plié, roll through your feet into a forced arch, and then stretch to relevé. I want a strong, solid balance. Repeat in second, fifth, and then fourth. After your balance in fourth, move to soussous and hold."

I marked the combination as she gave it, then placed my left hand on the barre and prepared to begin the combination. Music streamed through the speakers, and I smiled as I started my first demi plié. This was what I loved to do.

After a grueling technique class, I pulled Becca aside to ask her about Lauren. My best friend was panting and her face was bright red from exertion, but she still listened carefully as she guzzled down water from her plastic aqua blue bottle.

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