I knew I had to do something, maybe...
—Première —in one fluid motion, I rose on the tip of my left foot, turning the ankle to the same side while stretching the right one out a little, bringing it back to put both heels together against the ground, separating the arms from my body and keeping the palms up, without touching each other.
Maybe I should try to speak this time.
—Deuxième —I slid the tips of the left toes a foot away from the right heel, planting the left heel there, with the toes facing out, while I stretched my arms out to my sides, my hands still directed inward.
I didn't watch when fingernails scratched my right wrist in what was supposed to be an accident, but it had happened so many times that I knew it wasn't. I tried not to think about it, talking right now was not worth it. Concentration.
—Troisième —with too much relief I scooped up the right arm so that it returned to the first position, bringing back the left foot on tiptoes, resting the heel just behind the beginning of the right leg.
Despite this, I had to try. Talk. Not because I had promised, but because I owed it to myself. A single try would be fine. Nobody asked me much more than that.
—Quatrième —I slid the right leg a foot away, and a little more to the left, from the left, so that the heel was at the same height as the opposite toes and vice versa. I also did not forget, as it would be an unforgivable mistake, to raise my left arm above my head, fingers pointing inward.
For some reason, that particular posture filled me with courage. I balanced my center between the support of both legs, raised my chin. I knew where the Madame was, but I preferred to stare straight ahead, staring at nothing in particular. I didn't want to know anything from anyone else, I had to focus.
And maybe that way I could speak at the end of the class.
—Cinquième —I breathed out softly as I cut the distance from my right foot to my left, raising my right arm to accompany the other in the same position. I liked being stable even more.
I closed my eyes, perceiving more than seeing Madame's cane rise two inches from the ground. She clasped both hands on top and I pressed my eyes shut tightly as she slammed it down three times, trying hard not to startle. The fifth posture was my iron base.
This is how all our classes began.
I still had a chance to speak.
—Saut de chat.
The whole row of dancers, including me, took short steps on tiptoe, crossing our feet as we went. Discipline was key, we had to move at the same time. After the little jump that would propel us, we jumped stretching our legs until they were straight, with one arm in front and the other up in perfect position.
We had not touched the ground when:
I didn't stop to do the pose when I landed on my left foot. Since all the front space was occupied by us, I stretched my right leg forward to push myself into back turns. I felt more than I saw the second delay of my companions, dedicating precisely a second to purse my lips to them.
I was going through the second turn when:
I stopped facing the front of the room, resting the tips of my right toes on the floor. I discarded all the pantomime by taking three short steps forward to slide my left leg down until the knee touched the ground, at the same time tilting my body, leaving all the weight on my right foot. My left arm flowed across my entire chest during the thank you.
I opened my eyes without being able to discover what happened as I got up. I was always pending, I had no idea-
Two strokes of the cane against the ground stopped the course of my thoughts.
The room was quickly cleared and I went to a corner to crown the head and center of a trio, ready in position for whatever Madame-
I took two steps forward, raising myself on my right toes to turn to the left as soon as the sole of my left foot touched my knee.
They turned right at the same time, as if it was the first time they were grouped with me. Not only that.
I took another step before hoisting myself up on my right foot for another turn.
Something came loose in my hair.
—Troisième arabesque —demanded.
They took three steps when I took only one to pass me, turning for the third time at the same time as me, although to the opposite side.
The ribbon that held my hair broke.
The long black strands fell in curlers around me as at the end of the turn I was fully leaning on my right foot, stretching my left back into the air. I raised both arms in front, the left straight and the right inclined, with the fingers almost brushing those of the other two dancers who accompanied me.
I could see their smiles on the edges of my eyes, but I kept my attention forward, to nothing. And despite the fact that my eyes insisted on flooding with tears, I was able to hold them back, lifting my chin to keep my position.
"It's not something you can't control," I reminded myself.
But thanks to that I had lost my chance to speak.
I ran hard down my throat.
With the blow of the cane I left the posture, straightening up, clasping my hands in front and looking at the ground without lowering my head. The rest of the dancers positioned themselves on either side, leaving us in the center of the row.
Madame lifted my headband with her cane.
—This is a shame. —Her accent pierced me, but I fought not to stumble.
I blinked quickly to chase away the tears.
I took the headband as she stretched it out for me, holding it between both hands.
—Three weeks have gone by and the pirouettes continue to fail despite the fact that you practice them day after day at her side.
My jaw dropped, as did the rest, to discover that the scolding was not directed at me. I composed myself immediately, pressing my lips together to hide the smile.
—Amayah is at the center of the formation. Kasumi, Mieko, if you fail again...
Okay, zero smiles. The imaginary heavy ball fell hard on my stomach, sending a chilling wave through all my nerves.. If before my opportunity to speak had been lost, now it was definitely non-existent.
I lowered my head, ignoring the murmurs and movement of my companions as soon as the Madame left the room, ending today's lesson. Some of them hit me on the shoulder roughly, I knew who they were, but I didn't show that I cared, I had to reject them.
My headband was frayed where it was cut, far away from the knot I had tied. That is what they did. Kasumi had to have convinced the rest to sabotage me, as she never stood by my side unless they called us into formation.
I did nothing to prevent her from yanking it out of my hands when she stopped in front of me, her bag slung over her shoulder.
—You're useless, wavy.
She rolled the headband into a ball and tossed it in my face, but I was able to catch it without jerking before it hit the ground. I looked into her eyes, out of courtesy.
—If you're envious of my hair- —I tried.
—Envy? —She scoffed, the other two girls beside her showing how amusing the whole thing was—. Don't think you're special just because you style your hair in a different way. Don't be so ridiculous. The only thing you give is pity —She smirked when I looked down, it was faster when I 'cooperated'—. For some reason you're alone and no one supports you when things happen to you —she laughed, turning to go out with her small group of friends.
A hot wave tore through my veins, propelling me to let go of what I was thinking.
—Madame supports me —I couldn't help but smile at the thought.
I gulped when I realized it.
Kasumi whirled around in fury, her face flushed and her hands fisted. It was a sensitive fiber, I knew it. What I didn’t understand was why I, even knowing it, had used it against her. Like it’s going to do me a favor.
Her steps were heavy and not at all short in my direction. She raised her arm. I knew she was going to slap me, scar my face for the rest of the day by how hard she would hit me. I did nothing more than close my eyes and wait for her, because that was what awaited me when I opened my mouth the wrong way.
—What are you doing?
Only the slap never came.
They all turned to the voice, the one that I knew so well it made me relax immediately.
She was scary because she was intimidating. Jess was leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed, her jacket tightened by her posture marking her muscles. She didn’t smile, she hardly ever did, and her red eyes were, according to my companions, a gift from the devil. They looked very pretty to me. She didn’t express anything with her lips in a fine line, which gave an equivocal pressure to the environment.
—W-Why don't you mind your own business? —Kasumi replied, trying to hide her helplessness as she rearranged her bag.
—Should we have that conversation again? Do you have such a bad memory? —They got out of her way when she decided to approach me, wrapping one of her arms around my shoulders—. My business has to do with her —She pointed at me with her chin—, so if you disturb her… —As much as I did before, Jess left her sentence in the air for them to think of the worst.
It worked for her. All the girls, although much more threatened, fell back. The difference between me and her was that they feared her because Jess was feared. I would say that it made things easier for me, but the truth was that they only had to deal with Jess around the time of departure and not even every day. In fact, that she came looking for me straight to the classroom surprised me.
—Are you ready?
She also didn't wait for Kasumi or someone else to find their courage to answer her, she didn't really care if they messed with her.
—Y-Yes —I agreed.
What did piss her off was that they messed with me. Especially since my responses were: 1) fight the tears that were struggling to come out, 2) lower my head and 3) take the blow. It burned Jess too much that I just waited for the blow.
I didn't waste any more time, so while she was throwing my golden bag over her shoulder, I began to struggle with the knot of my headband to make a new one between both cut ends as I walked.
—I hope you're not thinking of tying it up again —Jess commented over my shoulder, watching what I was doing with my hands.
I could walk without looking straight ahead, so I didn't bump into the doorframe or the wall as I left the room next to her.
—You only love what you do —I pointed out.
—I just love how they look on you —She reached out to take one of my wavy locks—. You look beautiful.
I almost laughed, avoiding to focus on losing one of the two pieces of the headband, starting to tie them up.
—You're the only one who sees it that way —I reminded her.
—Sure, I'm the only one —She put a hand to her chest—. Together with your dad. And your mom —She held up her fingers to count—. And Riku. And Harumi.
—They don't count —I laughed.
—And Sabirah —she nodded—. I bet my life my dad too —She returned her hand to her chest, over her heart, as if it were a promise.
—Jess —I laughed again—, they're all family.
—Okay —she nodded, agreeing with me—. So all the boys in the music department, and the girls —She inclined her head a little, not at all surprised by this discovery—. All the guys from the art department. And the girls —she agreed again—. Every person who smiles at you on the street. The cop who always stops traffic to let you pass —She pointed at me with the alluding finger.
My laugh echoed down the hall.
—The guy who works at the cafeteria we like —she continued, looking up at the ceiling—. Oh, and Kasumi.
I shook my head in amusement, tying the headband around my wrist to keep my hands free.
—She only hates you because she can't bear that you're so pretty and, on the way, you dare to emphasize your individuality.
—Since when do you read minds? —I asked in an amused tone, grateful for the distraction.
—Since never —she smiled at me, showing all her teeth—, but you can check my theories. And they are all true —she accused me with a finger—, because, in case you didn't know, I'm terrific at my job —she boasted with a wave of her hand, standing out.
I loved it when she did that. And of course, of course I knew.
I smiled fondly at her.
—I've always known it.
—Great —she rested the back of one hand on her forehead—, because reminding you is exhausting.
I shook my head again, still smiling.
—By the way —I opened the bag to take out a brown blouse with sleeves, which I put on over the red leotard, gently pulling my hair so that it would not get caught between the two garments, without stopping walking—, why did you leave so early?
The blouse was followed by black capri pants that I did not mind putting on top of the leggings in the middle of the hall, I was not undressing.
—I didn't leave that early —She used her hands to pull out my black ballerinas in her attempt to make me ignore her nervousness. I used to stay half an hour or a full hour and little more taking advantage of the time and body heat to practice the choreography of the day, waiting for her. I sharpened my gaze in her direction, hopping on one foot to pull off a red ballet shoe—. I had a coffee on the way, I saw that I had time and I thought I would come to see you dance.
—You had a coffee —I repeated skeptically, and Jess did well to avoid meeting glances with me.
She exchanged a ballerina for my shoe and I was finally able to lower my leg. Just to repeat the same with the other foot.
—Yes- ... sweet —she was forced to confess.
—Sweet coffee —I raised an eyebrow, hoping she would hear what she had just said.
Although it was evident from my voice that I did not believe her at all, I kept my eyes on her, because it did not take long for her secrets to come to light under my pressure. At least until something outside forced me to shift my focus.
A girl was coming down the hall. Straight hair brushed her shoulders and bangs covered her forehead, but did not reach her eyebrows. She was not very expressive, but her frown and the emotion imprinted in her brown eyes was definitely evident. The headband hung around her neck and she was still wearing her purple ballet uniform.
—Nomura-sama —she called even though she already had my interest, taking a long step back when meeting Jess's gaze—. And Nomura-sama —she whispered.
The confusion was very natural, since we were quite similar. We were the same height, although at this point she seemed taller thanks to her boots and the fact that I had both feet flat against the ground. The waves in my hair gave a heart-like look to my face that was innate to Jess's. Our skin was the same tone, although the contrast with her dark clothes made her look paler. And removing all those details, along with the difference in color of our eyes, our opposite facial expressions -Jess seemed to look at her with annoyance only by the frown of her eyebrows as I invited her to continue, hoping that she would feel my acceptance- and how diametrically different our behaviors were, adding to it our obvious relationship with the other, they used to say that we were twins. And sometimes we clarified it and sometimes we didn't, like with my ballet class.
Their constant remembrance of Jess had its pros in countless situations, most of them relating to Kasumi.
The girl gathered the courage to see me again and communicate the message she had for me:
—I am so sorry.
I didn't even blink. If there was someone who felt even more pressure than me in that group, it was Mieko. Her smile during the arabesque was one of shame and sorrow, feelings that had not yet left her. She clasped her hands in front and leaned in, allowing us to see the back of her head and her back.
—Mieko-chan —I murmured with the intention of trying to make her abandon her purpose, but I decided better to smile a little knowing that what she was doing was one more step for her unconscious personal progress. I understood well the feelings she suffered inside.
—I didn't want to help Kasumi-chan, but at the time I felt very nervous and couldn't turn left instead of right. I did it on automatic. I know that doesn't excuse me, but I'm really sorry.
I sighed softly and didn't have to look at Jess to know she was watching me. I knew it, and her blessed "devil's" look wasn’t for exaggeration. She knew me, too well for my own taste sometimes, and that was her way of taking care of me, and pushing me, to keep me from getting off my tongue.
Because I wanted to tell her that I could very well stop turning left and turning right just like I should have done the first time. Confess that I had no problem leaning to one side or the other, but that the left one came out more natural. Explain that I had the same grace in both directions. But instead, I decided to listen to Jess.
—Don't worry, Mieko-chan. I have nothing to forgive you —I smiled at her when she raised her face hopefully—. I had imagined it was because of something like that —I revealed—. Besides, everything turned out fine, right?
She smiled, although not with all the certainty that I would like.
—If it makes you feel better —I blurted out on impulse, feeling Jess's piercing gaze—, we could practice a little before or after class so you feel confident —I tried between stammers, hoping I'd been clear even though I tossed it without thinking.
But her face lit up, she didn't even have to express how much she liked the idea, which made me believe that I had said the right thing.
—Thank you very much, Nomura-sama! —She bent her even more and I resented it from her back.
I looked up at a sensation and my smile fell to a fine line as I discovered the attention of Kasumi and her group at the end of the hall. Distance was my refuge from her anger, which she neither concealed nor diminished as she proudly turned her head and led the way out the other door.
Maybe for today I was safe, and I really believed I could bear any idea that came to her mind, but… maybe Mieko wasn’t.
—See you tomorrow, Nomura-sama!
—Yes… —I couldn't doubt—. Mieko-chan! —She stopped instantly to look at me again, still beaming. That emotion and all her conviction could suddenly disappear with a single moment from Kasumi—… Go out through this door —I pointed behind me—, okay?
She was confused for a second, but she smiled even bigger and nodded emphatically.
I smiled a little, hoping it was enough to keep them going for at least one more day.
—See you tomorrow!
I saw her jog back to the classroom and I couldn't help but think that I wasn't really helping her at all.
Jess opened her mouth and I decided to get ahead of the lecture she was going to give me.
—I know I shouldn't-
—Shouldn't you think about what you were thinking? —She interrupted me anyway—. Yeah, you shouldn't —and I could only look at her in surprise because I hoped she was upset with me—. You shouldn't feel bad for helping her. For a moment I thought you would say something that would imply that you would change.
—I thought about it —I murmured, looking down and playing with my fingers—. I could change my turns...
—Why would you do that? —she rebuked me.
—To make them like all the others —I sank between my shoulders.
—That doesn't answer my question.
I didn't have to look at her to know that she was watching me reproachfully, her hands resting on her waist.
I took a lock of my hair, twining it around my fingers.
—Why would you change what you are? —She insisted.
I opened my mouth to reply, but she wouldn't let me.
—Because it's easier? —She guessed my thoughts and I preferred to shut my mouth—. Because you are one and they are more? Because you don’t want to make them mad? Maya!
—What?! —I took a little jump at her demanding tone—. I haven't said anything!
—Precisely! And neither is your teacher —she guessed, making me purse my lips—, which means it’s fine! —She stretched her arms out to either side before putting her hands on my arms—. You are doing it perfect, because you are amazing. You have nothing to change.
I puffed out my cheeks and frowned, avoiding her eyes full of support, love and affection, knowing that she wasn't going to let go of me until I accepted it. She fought my resistance, being more insistent than I could be, causing me to fall into her loving gaze.
—Fine —I huffed—, I'm not going to do anything.
—Amazing —She smiled victoriously, putting an arm around my shoulders and propelling me to walk again.
—Don't think I've forgotten about your coffee thing —I reminded her, glancing at her.
Now it was her turn to startle and she pursed her lips as if she were holding back a curse, resigning herself.
—Let's just say… Iwassuspendedfromwork —she shrugged as my eyes widened.
—And not precisely for hitting my superior… —She scratched her cheek with her free hand.
—... Jess? —I looked at her alarmed, that was something she would definitely do, but she hadn't done it… had she? I felt a bead of cold sweat slide down my neck.
—It wasn't even me! —She excused herself, sinking between her shoulders, her tight dark braid flying back as we pushed through the double doors, through them and a breeze hit us in surprise.
My hair also fell into that dramatic temptation to play with the wind and I flinched a bit, pressing myself against Jess as I noticed the number of people who stared at me intently, but at no time did we stop.
—Belle was carried away by her emotions —she continued, unaware of the male interest, gesturing excessively and waving her hands—, one thing led to another and she ended up throwing the fresh, cheap, and pitifully cold coffee in his face —I had tensed, but knowing it wasn't hot helped me breathe—. And so I got a suspension for the rest of the week —she shrugged.
—Jess! —I frowned.
—The good side is —she added quickly, holding up a finger—, we have more time to spend together this week! —she shook me, wrapping her arms around me in a loving hug—. So I hope you tell me everything.
"Everything" was not as much information as she expected, but because of her profession she ended up with much more than I thought I had collected, and I should be used to it. Both things.
Since she was little, Jess always had that predisposition to ask questions, discover others and spin two different pieces of information to find a hidden background with the naked eye, non-existent for normal people like me. That has led her to be so successful at such a young age, and to earn several well-deserved mid-week vacations, nothing to do with her violent behavior.
So she managed to get my true thoughts out of my insecurity in ballet and my relationship with Kasumi. So she had me on the floor of her room, trying hard not to cry and hiding behind the tangle of my damp hair.
—She's one more cocky girl —she scoffed—, you should ignore her. Or better —she snapped the fingers of her free hand—: answer her!
She was holding the curling iron in the other hand with one of my strands in it, so it was convenient for me to move my head to where her impulsiveness led her to stretch her arm.
—Is not! —I insisted, holding my face in my arms, which were propped up on my crossed legs—. There is a lot of sadness behind her words, I worry about how things are going at home.
—Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no. Maya? —She leaned in to look at me before straightening up with determination—. Don’t! You are not going to approach that troublemaker hoping to find peace! If she hasn't done anything but annoy you! Why would you go help her?!
—Because what if that's her cry for help? —I straightened up and looked right into her eyes—. What if she's having a hard time? What if she needs someone to listen to her?
—Why does it have to be you? —she groaned, dropping onto her bent legs, deeply concerned.
—Because... —I lowered my gaze, thinking about something I already knew—... I'm the only one who notices it —I shrugged.
—That doesn't mean anything. Tell her friends —she insisted.
—They won't listen to me —I shook my head—. You know they won't believe me —I looked at her.
We kept holding each other's gaze for long seconds. I knew Jess understood, we had been through precisely that not too many years ago. My intervention marked a before and after in her life. She could know everything about a person based on their body language, but what I was capable of, that ability that I had discovered… it went further. And I was not wrong.
She started shaking her head as a last resort, I had already won.
—No —she demanded weakly.
I turned my back to her, returning to my posture so she could continue drying my hair. I took the two strands on either side of my face, pressing them down hard.
I could be sure of that, but I didn't know what I was getting into.
—Help everyone who needs it —I quoted, losing strength in my hands, sliding them through my hair to the ends—. That was what they taught us.
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