3: Chocolate Box Girls: Summer's Dream (2 page)

BOOK: 3: Chocolate Box Girls: Summer's Dream
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I was good. I got distinctions in every exam I took, danced centre stage at every dance school show, got used to Miss Elise telling the class, ‘No, no, girls, pay attention – look at Summer! Why can’t you all dance like that?’

My twin sister, Skye, used to roll her eyes and stick her tongue out at me, and the minute Miss Elise’s back was turned the whole class would fall about giggling.

Don’t get me wrong, though – dance was one thing I
always took seriously, even if Skye didn’t. I loved it. I signed up for every class the dance school offered: tap, modern, jazz, street … but ballet was my first love, always. At home I devoured ballet books about girls who overcame the odds to make their dreams come true. My poster girl was Angelina Ballerina, and I watched my DVD of
Billy Elliot
so many times I wore it out. When I wasn’t reading about dance or watching DVDs or dreaming about it, I was practising because even then I knew that being good was not enough; I had to be the best.

Dad called me his little ballerina, and I loved that. When you have lots of sisters – clever, talented sisters – you have to try a little harder than most to be noticed. I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

Miss Elise told Mum she thought I was good enough to audition for the Royal Ballet School, that she would set up the auditions for when I was eleven. I was so excited I thought I might explode. I could see a whole future stretching before me, a future of pointe shoes and leotards and aching muscles, a future that could end with me in a feathered tutu on the stage at the Royal Opera House.

It was so close I could almost reach out and touch it.

And then everything fell apart. Dad left us and moved up to London and it was like our whole family crumbled. For months Mum looked hopeless and crushed, and there were rows about visits with Dad, rows about maintenance payments, rows about everything. My big sister Honey raged and blamed Mum for what had happened.

‘I bet Dad thinks she doesn’t love him any more,’ Honey told us. ‘They’ve been arguing loads. Dad can’t help it if he has to be away a lot, he’s a businessman! Mum nags too much – she’s driven him away!’

I wasn’t sure about that, though. It seemed to me that Dad had been spending less time with us and more time in London for a while now. Mum didn’t so much nag as mention quietly that it’d be great if he could be around for Coco’s birthday or Easter Sunday or even Father’s Day, and that would trigger a big scrap, with Dad shouting and slamming doors and Mum in tears.

When I asked Dad why he was leaving, he said that he still loved us, very much, but things hadn’t been perfect for a while now. Back then it didn’t seem like a good enough reason to me. When things aren’t perfect, you need to work at them until they are, right? Dad obviously had different ideas.

A few days after the split, Skye, my twin, announced that she didn’t want to go to ballet class any more, that she’d only really gone along with it because I wanted to go. That kind of pulled the rug out from under my feet. I always thought that Skye and I knew everything there was to know about each other … and it turned out I was wrong. Skye had a whole bunch of ideas that I didn’t know about.

‘Summer, I don’t want to tag along in your shadow any more,’ she said, and if she’d slapped my face, I couldn’t have been more hurt. It felt like she was cutting loose, leaving me stranded, at exactly the moment I needed her most.

If you’d taken my life and shaken it up and thrown the smashed-up pieces down in a temper, you couldn’t have made more of a mess. So … yeah, that whole ballet school idea. It was never going to take off after Dad left, I could see that.

I passed the regional auditions OK, but by the time the date rolled around for the London one my head was a muddle of worries and fears. Could I really leave Mum, so soon after the break-up? Could I leave my sisters? I was torn.

Dad had agreed to take me to the audition, being based in London himself, but he was late collecting me and by the time we finally arrived I was sick with nerves. I danced badly, and when the panel asked me why I thought I should be given a place at the Royal Ballet School, I couldn’t think of a single reason.

‘Never mind,’ Dad said, exasperated, driving me home. ‘It’s no big deal. Ballet is just a hobby really, isn’t it?’

That just about killed me. Ballet was a big deal to me – it was everything. I stopped being Dad’s ‘little ballerina’ that day. I’d lost his respect – I was just one daughter of several after that, the one whose hobby was dance.

Needless to say, I wasn’t offered a place.

‘Don’t blame yourself,’ Mum told me. ‘You’ve been under a lot of pressure, and I should never have trusted your dad to get you there on time. There’ll be other chances.’

I smiled, but we both knew that I’d messed up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

You’d never have made it
anyway
, a sad, sour voice whispered inside my head.
You were kidding yourself
.

I brushed the voice aside, although I couldn’t quite forget it. Sure enough, that voice has been around ever
since, chipping into my thoughts with a bitter put-down whenever I least expect it.

That was over two years ago. Now, I am thirteen and I still love to dance. I still get distinctions in my exams and I still get good roles in the shows. Things at home are better. Dad lives in Australia now, but it’s not like we saw much of him anyway, even before the move. Mum has a new boyfriend, Paddy, who is kind and funny and easy to like. They are getting married in just a few days’ time. Paddy has a daughter, Cherry, so I have a new stepsister too, and I like her lots.

My big sister Honey can still be a nightmare, especially since Paddy and Cherry moved in, but I have Skye and Coco, a boyfriend, and good friends I can rely on. I do well at school. I should be happy, I know … but I’m not. Even though I messed up my chance of dancing professionally, I still have that dream.

In the deserted changing room beside the senior studio, I peel off my school uniform and fold it neatly, wriggling into tights and leotard. It’s like peeling away the layers of the real world. In my dance clothes I feel light, clean, free.

I loosen my hair from its long plaits, brush away the day’s
hassles and braid it again tightly, pinning it up around my head. I have done this so many times I don’t even need a mirror any more. I sit down on the wooden bench and pull the pointe shoes out of my bag. I slip my feet into the pink satin shoes and tie the ribbons firmly, tucking the ends out of sight the way Miss Elise has taught me. I stand and walk across the changing room, into the empty studio, the mirrors glinting. Beside the door, I dip the toes of my shoes into the chalky dust of the rosin box, so that I do not slip or slide on the hardwood floor. I reach down and flick on the CD player and the music unfurls around me, seeping under my skin.

When I dance, my troubles fall away. It doesn’t matter that Dad left and that my family are still putting the pieces back together again. It doesn’t even matter that I never got to go to the Royal Ballet School.

I take a deep breath and run forward, rising up en pointe, curving my arms upwards, swooping, twirling, losing myself in the music. When I dance, the world disappears, and everything is finally perfect.

2

‘Summer!’ my twin yells through from the bedroom. ‘Can you help me with my hair?’

I glance into the bathroom mirror and smooth down my white lace dress, frowning. The dress is a copy of a vintage petticoat, and all five of us sisters are wearing the same style, each with a satin sash in different ice-cream colours. Skye loves vintage, but this dress is not one I’d ever have chosen. It looks wrong on me somehow, too lumpy, too gathered, making me look bigger than I really am. I’m starting to hate all my clothes lately … or is it my shape I don’t like?

‘Summer?’ Skye calls again.

‘OK, I’m coming!’

Skye has woven a circlet of soft-pink mallow flowers and trailing baby-blue ribbon for her hair and she needs my help
to fix it in place. My hair is simpler, left loose and wavy with just a pink silk flower pinned on one side. The flower was a gift from my boyfriend Aaron last Christmas. That was before he was actually my boyfriend, of course. I found the prettily wrapped present labelled ‘from a secret admirer’ in my locker at school – it’s probably the most romantic thing Aaron’s ever done. He is not a slushy kind of boy and he has never mentioned the flower at all, but still, I love it.

‘We look OK, don’t we?’ Skye says. ‘For bridesmaids!’

‘Not a nylon ruffle in sight,’ I agree. ‘But … you don’t think the dress makes me look … well, too curvy, do you?’

‘Too curvy?’ Skye echoes. ‘No way, Summer! You’re really slim, you know you are! Besides, we’re meant to have curves. That’s part of growing up.’

‘I’m not sure I like it,’ I sigh. ‘When I look in the mirror these days, it doesn’t even look like me.’

‘Well, it is,’ Skye says. ‘And it’s me too – we’re identical twins, remember? I know what you mean, though. It takes a bit of getting used to!’

She sticks her tongue out at her reflection, and the two of us burst out laughing together.

‘I can’t wait to see Mum’s dress!’ I say. ‘She’s been so
strict about keeping it secret. She actually made Paddy sleep in the gypsy caravan last night!’

‘It’s bad luck for a bridegroom to see the wedding dress before the big moment,’ Skye says. ‘And Mum and Paddy don’t need any more of that!’

Skye is right. Paddy’s first wife died when his daughter Cherry was just a toddler, and Mum has had it rough too, what with Dad leaving. We’re all hoping this wedding will be the start of happier times.

The door swings open and Coco comes in, dragging Humbug, her pet lamb, on a leash. ‘Should I make a flower garland for Humbug’s collar?’ she asks. ‘So that she looks pretty for the wedding? Or would she just eat it, d’you think?’

‘Eat it,’ Skye and I say together.

‘Definitely,’ I add, peering out of the window. ‘That lamb is a walking, bleating waste-disposal unit. Oh … look! JJ’s here with the horse … It’s the dappled grey one!’

JJ’s dad owns the farm next door, and Mum and Paddy are borrowing one of their horses to pull the gypsy caravan.

‘He’s early!’ Coco squeaks. ‘I’m going down!’ She clatters down the stairs, Humbug at her heels.

I press my face against the glass, looking down at the
garden. Some blokes I’ve never seen before are draping fairy lights and bunting through the trees. A car pulls up and Paddy wanders across the grass towards it, his hair sticking up in unruly clumps, carrying a pair of new Converse trainers and his wedding suit over one arm.

‘The best man’s come to collect Paddy,’ I say. ‘That’s it then … not long now!’

Since early this morning Tanglewood has been in total chaos. The house is stuffed with Mum’s friends and relatives instead of our usual B&B guests, and when Skye and I went downstairs earlier, we found a crowd of women eating bacon and eggs at the kitchen table in their pyjamas, friends of Mum’s from her art college days. There were two great-aunts from Yorkshire trying on scary wedding hats in the living room, and a tribe of children smeared with chocolate spread, the offspring of distant cousins. In the middle of it all, Grandma Kate was calmly making cheese scones; her husband Jules (who’s not really my grandad, but sort of is now) was buttering bread.

‘Maybe we should go down and help with the food,’ Skye says now, reading my mind.

We get ambushed halfway down the stairs by Honey, her
white dress adjusted so it’s pretty much a mini, jaw-length blonde hair ruffled as if she has just got out of bed. She blinks at me over armfuls of garden flowers, blue eyes fringed with sooty mascara, model-girl cool.

‘Grandma Kate has put me in charge of the flowers,’ she says. ‘I know this is a shoestring wedding, but why scrimp on style? I’ve ransacked the garden. Can you two help make posies?’

Honey dumps the flowers in the bathroom sink before heading out to forage for more. Skye and I start making posies and Cherry joins in too, snipping bright carnations for buttonholes and twisting wire and silver foil around the stems. Cherry has given the petticoat dress her own cool twist, accessorizing with a Japanese parasol and chopsticks in her hair. Her mum was Japanese, so the look fits.

BOOK: 3: Chocolate Box Girls: Summer's Dream
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