"Hey! Whose bright idea was this?" Casey, a few steps ahead of Erin and me at this year's ballet class registration tables, waves a form at us. She looks distinctly disgusted.
Erin and I catch up with her and peer at the paper she holds up. I'm still looking for the problem when Erin groans, "Oh, no! Tori, look at this." She points, and I read:
Girls' Ballet Classes: Black camisole leotard . . .
Uh-oh--now I see. My friends Casey and Erin are identical twins, but they never dress alike. Until this year, the school of Southern Ballet Theatre, or SBT, here in Orlando, Florida, has allowed us to wear any kind of black leotard. Casey and Erin have always worn different styles so no one would mix up the two of them. Now it seems we're all going to have to wear the same ghastly style with the pinch-pleat front that emphasizes your--ahem--development or lack of it. Not to mention cope with those annoying straps that are forever sliding off your shoulders. You have to get someone to tie them together in the back for you, like a too-big swimsuit on a little kid. This means, of course, that Casey and Erin are going to be identically dressed, like it or not.
"Oh, but wait a minute," I say, "what about your hair? You could wear different-colored scrunchies to show who's who." We all have to wear our hair up in a bun for class.
"I guess that'd work," Erin says, and their two gloomy faces lighten a bit. "Hey, we could be like Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. I get to wear white and be Odette, the Swan Queen--you can wear black and be Odile, her evil look-alike!"
"Thank you so much, dear sister," Casey says with a grin, fake-punching Erin's arm. "But why'd they have to go and change things, anyway? What else is going to change this year?"
"Us, for one thing," I remind her. "We'll be training to join the Company! I can't wait to take class with the Company dancers!" The three of us have just been made trainees, a long-awaited big step toward our dream.
"We should get to be in all the ballets this year, too," Erin says, "and we ought to get bigger parts in Nutcracker at Christmas."
"Okay," Casey admits, "those'll be good changes. Anyway, I bet the Company dancers won't have to wear the camisole leotards. They seem to wear anything they want--sweatpants, baggy T-shirts, legwarmers . . . you name it. Maybe we'll be allowed to now, too--at least in their classes. Legwarmers are so cool!"
"Cool warmers--that makes sense," Erin teases, dodging as Casey pretends to smack her. I laugh, thinking how great it is that the three of us will be trainees together. I was pretty lonely before we got to be friends. Going to ballet class six days a week doesn't leave much time for a normal after-school life. One of my T-shirts tells it like it is: I CAN'T--I HAVE DANCE.
With visions of ourselves in the coolest of dance outfits, the three of us grab the rest of the forms we need and head off to our registration interviews.
* * *
For the last two years, my goal had been to make it to trainee so I could get the free classes and pointe shoes that would allow me to continue. Mom was working as a substitute teacher to cover these expenses, but with her arthritis getting worse, she would soon need to stop. Dad's salary could cover training for one daughter but not two--not at the serious six-days-a-week level my sister and I both need. Roni's such a fab gymnast--she's actually in training for the Olympics! If it came to a choice, it would only make sense for her to be the one to continue.
Mom and I had it all planned that once I made trainee, she'd stay home and homeschool me, which would help both of us. Trainees have to be available for Company class Friday mornings and their own classes in the early afternoon, before the lower-level classes after school hours. They also have evening classes, which would make regular high school's homework impossible, plus a lot of rehearsals with the Company. Casey and Erin's private school said they could arrange their classes and assignments to fit their dance schedule. With our schooling cleared for ballet, we were eager to take our trainee audition.
Well, audition day turned everything upside down, and it was changes that messed up all our plans. Casey and Erin arrived at SBT before us, and when Mom and I walked in, we saw three long faces. The girls looked as if they'd been crying.
I hurried over to them. "What's happened?"
"Is something wrong?" Mom asked Mrs. Reed.
"We just got the news this morning," Mrs. Reed replied. "Their school's backed out of the plan to work around the girls' ballet schedule." Casey and Erin nodded.
"How can they do that?" I asked her. "The principal promised you!"
"That's the problem," she said. "The school got a new principal over the summer, and she won't allow it. We tried everything to persuade her, but it was useless. We're in shock."
In a somber mood, we trailed off to the registration desk to sign in. The school receptionist told us that two other girls would be auditioning with us. She remarked that my pointe shoes looked a little worn. "Will they be okay for the audition?"
"They'll do. How soon will we get our first free ones as trainees?"
"Oh, dear, I'm so sorry," she said. "That's been changed. The Company can no longer afford to provide free shoes to the trainees. Only the apprentices get a shoe allowance now."
My heart screeched to a stop. I barely dared to breathe. "What about the free classes?"
"I'm afraid that's been discontinued too. You didn't know?"
I could only shake my head, unable to speak through the lump in my throat. I felt as if all the blood had drained from my body. Erin and Casey each put an arm around me and walked me over to our moms, who knew immediately that something more was wrong.
"Tori," Mom exclaimed, "you're white as a ghost! What's the matter, dear?"
"Mom, it's all changed . . ." I went into her arms, fighting hard not to cry. Casey delivered the bad news just as our names were called.
"Listen, honey, and you girls, too. Go on in there, do your best, and try not to worry. Ruth and I will go up to the break room and talk things over. We'll think of some way around both situations, so just come back with some good news for us!"
It was awfully hard to act normal. We forced smiles when we were introduced to Kamala and Katana, sisters from another ballet school in town--I forgot immediately which one. They were nice enough and probably wondered why we weren't more friendly. Luckily we weren't asked to dance anything bouncy and cheerful. We must have performed okay through sheer muscle memory, because we were all told at the end that we were accepted into the trainee program.
We trudged up the spiral staircase to the break room with heavy hearts. When Mrs. Reed asked "Did you all make it?" we just nodded gloomily. Much good it would do us . . .
To our surprise, both moms broke into wide smiles. "What?" we asked, mystified.
"We've come up with the perfect plan," Mom announced, her eyes twinkling.
"Wait till you hear it!" Mrs. Reed added, beaming. "It's brilliant!"
And it was.
Mrs. Reed, having plenty of money, wasn't worried about having to pay for classes and shoes. Her problem was the girls' schooling. Mom's problem was not schooling, since she could teach me; it was paying for my classes and shoes. It didn't take the two of them long to see the solution to both problems!
Casey and Erin are going to homeschool with us--yay! The Reeds will use the money they'll save by not paying private school fees anymore to pay for my ballet classes--plus they'll cover any summer workshops the three of us want to go to! I'm also to be their "third daughter" each time they make a trip to the dancewear shop. This is major just by itself. Pointe shoes are incredibly expensive. They don't last very long, either, and we're sure to go through them a lot faster this year. And of course we'll also need a supply of the dreaded new leotards, which won't be cheap either.
The Reeds actually did once have a third daughter. Casey and Erin are identical twins, but they're more than that. They call themselves trins, their word for what's left of triplets when one dies. Their sister, Heather, had a weak heart and lived to be only seven. That was sad enough, but even sadder was that Erin and Casey thought their mother didn't care. Heather was not identical to them--they have light-brown hair and brown eyes, and she had dark-blond hair like mine and hazel eyes. They thought their mother was okay with losing her because she still had her set of identical twins. It's true she was big into the twin thing. She wanted everything matching, which of course made Erin and Casey want to look as different as possible. I felt bad for them that they didn't have a good relationship with their mom. They still missed Heather, and they were sure their mom didn't.
Last year for our spring performance, we decided to remember Heather in a short ballet we made up called We Were Three. I danced the role of Heather--Casey and Erin say I look a lot like her except that my eyes are green. After our performance, we found Mrs. Reed in floods of tears, and Erin and Casey learned how much pain their mother was hiding about Heather. So in a surreal sort of way, I guess I am the Reeds' "third daughter." I'll be living the life Heather would have had if she'd lived. It's a strange feeling.
Changes, changes--what else will this year bring? I wonder, as I always do at the beginning of a new school year and dance year. I'm so lucky, I tell myself. I've made it to trainee, and I have two best friends, a wonderful boyfriend (YESSS!), and a great family. Please, no changes to any of these.
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