Authors: Megan Atwood
On her way back to her room, Kayley ran into Madeleine and Ophelia. They were whispering to each other and giggling. Kayley seethed with jealousy. Madeleine
taking everything away from her. Ophelia was supposed to be
She tried to walk past them without saying anything, but Ophelia grabbed her sweater. “Hey. Where are you going?”
“Are you all right?” Madeleine asked, putting a hand on Kayley's shoulder.
Kayley shrugged it off. “I'm fine. Just not feeling well, that's all.”
Ophelia stared hard at her. Kayley knew she wasn't buying it. But Ophelia shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
Madeleine said, “Do you want us to walk you to the nurse's office?”
The nurse's office was perfect. Why hadn't she thought of that? It was right near the staircase to the lower floor, where Bert's office was. She would fake sick all day and use the time away from class to try to get the keys.
Kayley shook her head. “Uh, no, I can get there myself. I'm just going to drop off my bag.” She looked down at the floor and started to walk away.
“You're acting weird,” Ophelia said, but Kayley was walking away too fast to respond. She dismissed the other girls with a wave. She didn't have time for this; she had an illness to fake.
She dropped her bag off in her room, then grabbed a hooded sweatshirt with a pocket in the front. Then she practically sprinted to the nurse's room.
When she got there, she tried her hardest to look sick.
The nurse was cleaning shelves off as Kayley walked in. She held her belly and groaned to get the nurse's attention.
He turned around.
“My stomach hurts.”
Nurse John squinted at her. “Well, why don't you lie here. Have you eaten today?”
This was always his first question. Nurse John thought ballet dancers didn't eat enough.
She realized she hadn't. She shook her head.
He frowned and then walked to his desk and pulled out a granola bar. “Well, eat this. Then we'll see how you feel.”
Kayley nodded, opened up the wrapper, and ate the bar. Her stomach actually did start to feel better, but she waited for a bit and said, “I don't think that helped.” She tried to look as pitiful as she could.
Then she added, “I don't think I can do classes or ballet practice today.”
Now the nurse, Kayley knew, was used to ballet dancers trying to fake sick out of regular classes. But never did they try to fake their way out of ballet class. Never. Nurse John immediately nodded and said, “OK. I'll give you a note to give to your teachers. Can you make it to your room all right?”
Kayley nodded and watched as he scribbled something on a piece of paper. She could hardly believe how easy this was: all she had to do was show the note to Madame and her teachers tomorrow, and she'd be excused. She had to hide her smile when the nurse handed her the paper.
She held her stomach and said, “Thank you,” and walked slowly out the door.
As she turned the corner, she looked both ways down the hall to make sure no one would see her, then went down the stairs she knew led to the maintenance man's room.
Time to change things around. Time for the shoes.
When Kayley hit the first stair, she almost turned back. She had forgotten how creepy the school could be. There was barely any light in the staircase. Canned laughter traveled to her from a TV far away, coming from the bottom of the stairs. The house creaked and groaned. Shadows played down the stairway, even though it was the middle of the day. She knew there were no windows down in the basement. She wondered how the maintenance man handled it. She could see why he was slightly weird.
She crept down ancient wooden stairs and, after an eternity, got to the end. Light flooded out into the hallway from a room off to her right, the source of the TV laughter. She sidled up to the door, tiptoeing. She crouched down, thinking Bert wouldn't notice a face at the bottom of the door, and moved her head around the corner.
The office was empty.
Papers stood everywhere in uneven stacks, and a prehistoric computer sat blank-screened and unused on the desk. The TV sat on top of a double VCR/DVD player, with some tape going in the VCR. It looked and sounded like old episodes of some old TV show. Who knew? The maintenance man was a sitcom lover. Vintage.
Kayley slipped into the maintenance room as quietly as she could. The first thing she did was step on a pencil. The sound ricocheted off the room.
Kayley ducked, putting her hands up to her mouth. She looked out to the hallway, but no one seemed to be coming.
Looking carefully at the floor in front of her, she tiptoed over to the desk and began opening its metallic drawers. Each one squeaked open. The bottom drawer held a series of files. Kayley noticed an entire folder dedicated to
, but she didn't have time to look at it. She was searching for a key. Surely Bert had duplicates?
She stepped back and scanned the room. Nothing.
She needed those shoes! She kicked her heel back against the wall, not caring whether or not someone heard her. Something banged against her calf, and she turned around.
A tiny door in the wall hung open, about an inch up from the wood trim at bottom. She never would have seen the door's outline unless she'd been looking for it. Crouching down, Kayley looked inside. An old-fashioned key hung on a hook.
A key that looked like a perfect fit for the display case upstairs.
Kayley reached out slowly and picked the key up, holding it in her hands. Here was the key to her future. The key to dancing the part she was supposed to dance. To being the dancer she wanted to be. She closed the little door and stood up. And then she heard it again. The laughter. This time she was sure.
Shoving the key in her pocket, she sprinted upstairs to her room, making enough noise to wake the dead.
At midnight, Kayley sat on her bed, chewing on her fingernails, her knees shaking. She'd been going over the same thoughts constantly since she took the key.
Should she, or shouldn't she?
Kayley hadn't even gone to dinner. She had just lain on her bed, one arm thrown across her eyes and the other tapping its fingers on the bedspread.
Taking the shoes would be wrong. No doubt about it. She would get into
trouble if someone found out. She might even get kicked out of the academy and then she wouldn't be able to get into another one and then she'd never get a position in a company â¦ Her parents would be so ashamed. Not to mention, her own moral compass pointed to no. Stealing was just wrong.
But then â¦
Kayley needed that part back. She was born to play the fairy godmother. She needed to feel that fire in her belly again, the whole-body feeling that came over her when she would get a complicated move right or when she could feel the music run through her. She
And it sure as heck wasn't anywhere to be found at the moment.
Kayley stopped shaking her knees and stood up straight. She'd wasted yet another hour worrying. It was time for action. Even if the shoes
work as a good luck charm, well â¦ she'd know she'd tried everything.
Opening her door quietly, she looked both ways down the hallway. Dark shadows played all around the hall, the electric lights on the wall flickering like candles. The bloodred carpet looked almost black in the shadows. Kayley shivered.
As long as she didn't hear that laugh, she'd be fine. She hoped.
Kayley stepped lightly down the hallway, slowing near the set of big stairs that lead to the lobby. She took a look over the edge of the ornate banister and saw the dark entrance into the lobby area. A red light from the Exit sign on the side of the huge lobby seemed to shine in a beam that led straight to the shoe display. She walked carefully down the wide marble staircase. Her slippers made only the tiniest
as she walked.
After what seemed like a decade, Kayley reached the bottom. For a second, she hesitated, wringing her hands together. She looked down at her feet, set automatically in first position. She smiled a little to herself; Madame would love her turnout right now.
With the thought of Madame propelling her, Kayley moved forward into the dark of the lobby, following the light that led to the shoes. She stopped in front of the glass case and looked down.
The glow from the Exit sign made the cream color of the shoes a ghostly red. Kayley hesitated again.
Suddenly, the sound of whistling traveled downward from the hallway opposite the stairs.
The maintenance man! Of course, Bert did nightly checks around the building! More than one ballet dancer had been caught during his rovings.
Kayley crept behind a huge leather chair that sat in the lobby. And just in time. The whistling got louderâshe could hear the clomping of his boots as he walked through the lobby.
The maintenance man made his way past the case and toward Kayley. She knew she was well hidden, but her heart felt like it would crawl out of her chest anyway.
And then it happened. Kayley's leg started to cramp up. She knew she needed to switch positions. She shifted ever so slightly, and the key fell out of her hoodie pocket, clinking on the marble ground.
The whistling stopped immediately.
The maintenance man's voice echoed through the lobby. Kayley thought for sure she'd pass out.
His boots came trudging toward Kayley's hiding spot, so she picked up the key and shifted her weight until she was completely hidden behind the chair.
And then her leg cramped again. She clamped her lips down hard and stayed in position, ignoring the pain. Bert grumbled, “If it's any kids, you all are in trouble.”
But Kayley thought she heard some fear in his voice. What did
have to be afraid of?
After a torturous few minutes, Bert walked away. Kayley heard him say under his breath, “You won't beat me yet, Quincy house. I'm not afraid of you.”
She could tell from the quiver in his voice that he was most definitely afraid.
When she heard his boots make it all the way down the hallway, she stood up and shook out her leg. It was time to get out of the lobby before someone else decided to come in and talk to themselves.
Kayley ran to the box and slid in the key. Sure enough, it fit. She opened the case. A rush of musty smell enveloped her nose, but she reached in and picked up the shoes, moving slowly and gently to make sure she didn't damage them.
They were tiny and fragile. And they were beautiful.
Carefully placing one and then the other in the front pocket of her hoodie, she closed the lid and locked it.
A strange calm enveloped her, and she walked slowly back to her room, her only thought the steady, reassuring notion that she would once again be the dancer she wanted to be.
Kayley got no sleep that night. After staring at the shoes and touching them ever so lightly, she had to figure out a place to put them. Someplace safe, not only from someone finding them but also for the shoes. She was mesmerized by them and didn't want them to get dirty.
Hiding something in your room was problematic. Kayley had seen searches before when things were stolen â¦ She couldn't risk being caught. She bounced her knee up and down and racked her brain for the solution.
And then she figured it out. The best hiding place was in plain sight. She had slippers shaped like sushi that were plush and huge. She'd put one shoe in each slipper. The shoes would stay pristine, and if anyone decided to do a search, who would check the sushi slippers?
She swore, as she tucked the hidden shoes away in her closet, that she felt an extra little charge. Maybe today would be a good day for dancing. She glanced up at the clock: five thirty. She might as well go to class now and do a good warm-up. And anyway, she was dying to see if there was any effect.
She quickly changed into her leotard and footless tights and tied her hair up in a bun. With a quick look to the closet, where her new lucky shoes lay, she grabbed her bag and raced out the door. She felt electric.
Kayley did a few jumping jacks to get her blood pumping once she reached the ballet studio. She didn't realize how tight her body had been. She decided to take her time stretching, enjoying every single movement of the pull. She'd forgotten how nice it was to really concentrate on stretching. She did use to come early to do these stretches; maybe she'd get back in the habit.
At quarter to six, Madeleine walked in and practically jumped in surprise at Kayley.
Even though Kayley knew Madeleine didn't mean to steal everything of Kayley's, a part of her still felt resentful. But with the thought of the shoes in her closet, she also felt a little â¦ well, superior to her all of a sudden. Superior and just a little snotty.
“Hey, what are you doing in here?” Madeleine asked.
Kayley smiled sweetly and said, “Ballet.”
Madeleine's face turned red. “Of course. I mean â¦ I just haven't â¦ that's cool. Maybe we can warm-up together.”
Kayley smiled again. “You know, I think I've done the stretching. I'm going to practice some turns now.”
She took her shoes out of the bagâthey seemed so odd now that she'd been looking at the old-fashioned onesâand tied them tight. She flexed her feet. The shoes felt so good, so right. That electric feeling came back. She felt like she could dance up a storm.
She stood up and did a trial pirouette. Just as she spotted, her gaze landed on Ophelia, a scowl on Ophelia's pretty face.
She said to Kayley, “What are you doing in here?”
Kayley got off pointe and said the same thing she said to Madeleine: “Ballet.” Then she did three fouettÃ©s in a row and ended in a side split on pointe. The electricity practically crackled.
Ophelia gaped at her. Kayley smiled with her face toward the ground. It had to be the shoes.
Madame walked in, as did the rest of the company, and Kayley saw it was already five minutes to six. Madame called them all to attention and class began. Kayley had a good feeling about this.
. That was the word that kept running through her mind.
She knew the class saw the change in her. She kept getting looks and this time because Madame used her as a
example. At the end of class, she approached Madame with her excused-absence note.
Madame stared down at her behind small, leopard-printed reading glasses and said, “Well, whatever rest you got yesterday must have done the trick.”
Kayley just smiled. Madame signed the note and said, “If you keep dancing like this, maybe there will be a lead part in our next production.”
Kayley's stomach sank. “But, Madame, can't I have the fairy godmother part back? That is, you know, if I keep dancing like I am?”
Madame shook her head. “Kayley, I can't change back now. We're too close to the start of the production, and it's just too strange to go back and forth. I'm sorry, but you'll have to stay in the corps this ballet. The next one, though â¦”
She shot a pointed look toward Kayley, a look that said “this is important,” and added, “
you keep dancing like this.”
Kayley walked angrily over to her bag. What was the point of all of this? She had just danced better than ever before, better than Madeleine. Why couldn't she get her part back? Had she stolen the shoes for nothing? She picked up her bag as Sophie ran into the room.
“Did you hear?” Sophie asked excitedly.
Kayley shook her head.
“Somebody stole the shoes in the case out front!” Sophie said.
Kayley remembered that she needed to look surprised. She put her hands up to her mouth and made a squeak she hoped sounded like shock.
Sophie nodded, “I know! Who would want to steal those shoes?”
Kayley shrugged. “Yeah, that's really weird.”
“Honestly, what some people will do for attention here.”
Kayley narrowed her eyes. Sophie, busy walking to the back of the class, didn't see it. She picked a shrug from off the floor.
“I forgot this,” she said to Kayley and walked toward the door. Turning around, she added. “Hey, you were awesome in class today! I'm glad to see you're finally trying.”
Kayley fumed. Finally trying? Needed attention? She wasn't some little kid throwing a tantrum. And it's not like she hadn't
trying. Well, maybe not as hard but still.
She walked out the door, determined to show Sophie what
really meant at their next class.