Authors: Megan Atwood
“Even you have to admit, your work has been sloppy as of late,” Madame said, as she shuffled papers that covered her huge, ornately carved desk.
Kayley squirmed in her chair. There was something about Madame that made her feel small, even though Kayley was probably two inches taller. Madame could look down her nose at you from any height.
Kayley swallowed. All the fire she'd felt the night before seemed to have gone up in smoke. She nodded shakily. Then she added, “Lately. But you know I'm not like that all the time.”
Madame stopped shuffling papers. Kayley thought she seemed burdened with the world. But what she realized she saw was Madame looking sad. Her eyes were downcast, and her mouth was pressed and turned down. Madame was sad to have to do this. Kayley shifted in her seat.
Madame leaned forward and said softly, “Not all the time. But for all of the semester to date. And after autumn break, well â¦ things have only gone downhill. Your concentration is off; your technique is poor. You're a different dancer than you were just a year ago. I gave you the part of the fairy godmother with the hopes that you'd find yourself again. But you haven't.”
Kayley's eyes filled with tears. She cursed herself and her stupid tear ducts. This talk was not going quite how she planned. She would
cry in front of Madame. With a huge effort, she swallowed down the lump of emotion in her throat.
“Madame â¦ I know things have been a little sloppy lately. But I
get better and back to myself. I'm just asking for another chance.”
Madame shook her head and gave her the sad look again. “Kayley, do you think professional ballet companies give dancers another chance? This school is supposed to prepare you for your career as a dancer. Your
career. Only the best get into this academy, and we have a 95 percent placement rate. And that's saying something when ballet is on the decline.
“There's nothing to be ashamed of, being in the corps. Nothing. That's a huge accomplishment in and of itself. We'll place you, no doubt. So why don't you just enjoy your dancing now? You seem to be at a place where your performance has taken second fiddle to â¦ well, to something, and that's fine. You have that luxury because of natural talent. So enjoy yourself.”
A tear spilled over Kayley's cheek. How could she explain to Madame that second best was never good enough? That in her family, dancing the corps might as well be a prison term and a life of crime? It was bad enough she didn't have the lead but the corps? Her parents would never be proud of her. Unlike her brothers. She was officially the black sheep of the family. She could never endure them coming to the
Madame got up and walked around the desk, sitting beside Kayley in one of her office's massive leather chairs. In an uncharacteristic motherly move, Madame wiped the tear off Kayley's cheek.
“Kayley,” she said softly. “There are only two weeks until the performance. My hands are tied. We need someone who can dance the part.”
Kayley sniffled and then stopped fighting it. She let the tears flow.
Madame grabbed a box of Kleenex sitting on her desk. How often did she have to hand out tissues to crying dancers? Kayley wondered. She blew her nose noisily and wiped her eyes.
“I think you are a beautiful dancer, Kayley, with a lot of potential. But I don't think you have the drive that others here do. And that's OK.”
Kayley hiccup-sobbed and grabbed another Kleenex.
Madame went on, “But if you want to convince me otherwise, well,
! Eat, breathe,
ballet. Read books in the library, practice off-hours.” She glanced at Kayley's bag. “Eat healthy and nourish your body instead of feeding it junk. Then, perhaps, for the next production, you will have earned your place as a soloist.”
Madame stood up decisively and strolled back behind her desk. “But you'll have to really show me. Otherwise, be satisfied with your place in the corps. Many dancers would kill for that, you know.”
She winked at Kayley.
Kayley took a deep breath. No way was she going to be content with the corps. No way. She stiffened her spine and grabbed her bag. “OK. I've heard everything you have to say, Madame.”
And then Kayley walked out of the office. Maybe she wouldn't kill someone for a place in the corps or even a lead part but darned if she wouldn't kill herself trying to get back on top if she had to.
As much as Kayley didn't want to admit it. Madame was right. She wasn't driven. She didn't care as much as the others. And she didn't eat, sleep, and breathe ballet.
But she knew she was talented. Maybe not as talented as Madeleine and Ophelia but definitely more so than Sophie and Emma. Or at least on the same level.
As if she had called the girls up, all four of them came down the hall toward her. She had missed dinner to speak to Madame, and she knew the others were all curious as to what had happened.
She kept walking down the hall and met them halfway. The dark corridor did nothing to dampen her mood. For the first time in days, she felt happy. And determined.
“Hey, guys!” she said as she reached Ophelia, Madeleine, Sophie, and Emma. Ophelia furrowed her eyebrows. Ophelia was one of those girls, Kayley knew, who always looked mad or just plain mean. So when Ophelia actually put on a stern face, her look was plain paralyzing. Normally, Kayley would have laughed at the look, but something had changed in her. She stared back and said, “What.”
“What do you mean, what?” Ophelia said. “I was just looking at you. Wondering how it went with Madame.”
Ophelia looked at Madeleine and widened her eyes.
A pang of jealousy shot through Kayley. Since when were Ophelia and Madeleine such good friends? Not only was Madeleine taking her part, but evidently she was taking Kayley's friends as well. If Madeleine weren't so nice, Kayley would actually be angry with her. But she couldn't think of her friendships now. She had work to do.
She continued down the hall, the girls following her. Kayley could practically feel their confusion.
Finally, Sophie spoke up: “Well?”
Kayley stopped in front of her room. “Well, what?”
Ophelia let out an exasperated sigh. “You know what! How did it go with Madame?”
Kayley turned the key in her lock. “It was really good.”
Emma's eyes widened. “Did Madame give you your part back?”
Madeleine looked relieved. Kayley realized how conflicted she must have felt about taking the role. She truly wasn't upset with Madeleine about it either, but she didn't have time to babysit other people's feelings.
She opened her door and said, “Nope,” then stepped inside, leaving the four girls standing outside in the hall.
Madeleine reached out with another bag of candy. “We thought you might like one of these. Talking to Madame is always hard.”
Kayley smiled at the girls. “Thanks, but no thanks. You guys are great. But I need to do some work. I'll see you tomorrow morning at class.”
With that, she shut the door.
It was one in the morning, and Kayley had been in the library for hours, paging through books on ballet technique. She'd exhausted herself in her room browsing the Internet and watching YouTube. For variety, she'd decided to check out the libraryâa place she hadn't even stepped in since she started coming to the academy two years ago. She'd managed to carve a space out in the way, way back corner of the dusty shelves so she could try out any new moves she discovered.
She wondered if anyone else had ever gone back to the place where she had camped outâa forgotten-looking corner at the end of a labyrinth of corridors. Cobwebs hung from the dusty old windows, and the books on the shelves looked ancient. The lights in the library had been shut off hours ago, but Kayley had planned ahead and kept her flashlight. She'd broken curfew so many times before that she knew exactly how to prepare lights-out. Sure, she was risking detentionâor worseâbut she wasn't nervous in the least. She had a feeling that no one would check all the way back where she was. She hadn't even known the place existed.
Even though Kayley wasn't one to get easily spooked, she had to admit this corner of the library was creepy. Cut off from everything else, dark and dusty â¦ Every noise threatened to make her jump. And there were a lot of noises. Creaks, groans, sighs. The place sounded like it was talking at her in a dead language. She was officially creeped out.
As she was closing a book on Russian masters and their ballet techniques, she thought she heard footsteps.
Her heart began to beat faster, and blood rushed to her head. She sat still and listened, but the footsteps no longer sounded through the hall.
She shook her head. The dark corner and the echoing sounds were getting to her. Lots of students thought the academy was haunted, but she never believed in that kind of stuff.
She stood up. From three shelves away, a loud
echoed through the room like a shot.
Kayley jumped back, toppling over the chair she was sitting on. She put a hand to her chest, trying to slow her fast-beating heart. She flashed her light around the space and called out in a shaky voice, “Who's there?”
The only reply was the echo of her question.
Her flashlight beam landed on cobwebs, revealing shelves filled with the crumbling old books. A spider crawled along the top of one of the cases.
She shivered. Yep, it was time to get out of there.
Grabbing the books she'd collected, she walked quickly down a row of stacks until she tripped and dropped her flashlight. It rolled away from her, spinning and spinning until it stopped, like a spotlight, on the object that had caused her fall.
Kayley bent down and looked at itâa book. An ancient one, from the looks of it. Turning it over in the light, she scanned the cover:
A History of Dario Quincy Academy of Dance
. She shrugged to herself. It wouldn't hurt to read up on the place.
As she picked the book up, her bag bumped against the bookcase, and from the upper tier of the library, Kayley could swear she heard laughter. She stayed still for a moment to see if it came back, and though no noises did, a feeling of unease crept up her spine.
Why was she listening for voices in an empty library? she asked herself and then ran as fast as she could to her room.
Despite a promise to herself that she would get a good night's sleep for ballet class after her adventure in the library, Kayley found herself transfixed.
A History of Dario Quincy Academy of Dance
After her experience in the creepy corner, Kayley had run back to her room, shadows following her wherever she went. She unlocked her door and stumbled into her room. She landed on her bed, and without putting on pajamas, she opened the old book.
Dust puffed out and Kayley coughed. She dropped the book, startled, and it landed open to a page with a beautifully illustrated picture of pointe shoes, old-fashioned but still gorgeous. Kayley was mesmerized. She picked the book back up and read the caption underneath the illustration: “The dancing shoes of Dorothy Quincy, wife of the founder of Dario Quincy Academy.”
Something like recognition flashed through her mind, but she couldn't quite grab onto it. She started reading the section.
The book talked about the founder of the academy and how bad luck seemed to follow him wherever he went. Until he married a ballerina and together they established the academy, as well as a company with her dancing the lead. Evidently, she was a beautiful dancer, which seemed to make up for her husband's bad luck, and she was on her way toward world renown as a prima ballerina.
Dorothy was very superstitious and made sure to wear the same pointe shoes for every performance, mending them as they needed to be mended and tending to them with great care. And then one day, they were gone. Vanished.
She was heartbroken, but she was a dancer and she had to dance. And so she still performed, on borrowed pointe shoes, in the academy's production of
. It was during this performance that an accident took her life. She died before she could become famous.
Legend also had it that the shoes reappeared after Dorothy's death and her husband kept them with him every night until his death. His luck then changedâthe academy expanded, his fortune grew, but his heart remained broken. Regardless, the rumor was that the shoes imparted good luck on anyone who had them in their possession.
By the time Kayley closed the book, a vision flashed in her brain. The shoes were at the academy, enclosed in a glass case in the lobby. She'd seen them a million times, read the plaque in front of them over and over without retaining any of it. She could see the inscription in her mind, plain as day: “In loving memory of Dorothy Quincy. May your dancing live on.”
Kayley shut the book. She could sure use some luck like that at this point. She looked at the clock and yawned. Three in the morning already, and class started in three hours. She sighed. Looked like it would be another humiliating class.
After class, a sweaty Kayley left early to avoid talking to her friends. She'd been rightâit
been an awful class. Kayley was just too tired to give it her all, and it showed in the corps. She kept yawning through the practice, and more than once she felt the harsh eyes of Madame staring at her. She walked out, discouraged.
To avoid breakfast and other people, Kayley walked downstairs and headed in the opposite direction of the dining hall. She would just wander until the meal was over and then head to regular classes. She didn't even feel like taking a shower. She stepped out into the lobby of the building and saw the glass case right away. She'd always taken that case for granted. But there they were.
She hurried over to the case and stared at them.
If only she could have them, just for a little while, just until her dancing returned to the level it had been at.
She could make her dad proud. And Madame.
Kayley looked all around the glass case to see if she could open it somehow, just to touch the shoes one time. A lock sat at the back of the display.
Kayley sighed in frustration. Of course the case was locked. Did she think she could just open the case and touch an antique pair of shoes?
She shook her head, annoyed with herself. What was she thinking, anyway? That these shoes could really make someone a better dancer? It was a silly thought for a silly girl. She turned around and ran smack into Bert, the maintenance man, making the keys on his belt jingle.
He scowled down at her. “Watch where you're going, missy.”
She stepped back, and he grabbed a bottle of cleaner and started wiping the glass case.
“Now don't you go smudging this case, Ms. Thing. I have to wipe this down every day, and I'll be able to tell.”
Kayley laughed. “I was just
He scowled at her, and she backed away, but not before she took note of his large key ring.
She would bet her entire ballet career that the key to that case was on that ring. And the strange feeling of need came over Kayley. She wanted those shoes. More than anything else in the world.
She stood straighter. What would it hurt to test the legend?