Two weeks into her dancing 'career', Charlie was beginning to feel like she belonged. The other girls were friendly and welcoming, the training sessions were intense but they worked, and she really felt herself improving. At ordinary classes she was stronger and her stamina was better; she could leap higher and dance for longer and her mind was clear no matter how tired she was.
"Girls," said Ben, on her third Friday training session, fifteen days after her audition, "we will be performing next Saturday. It's part of a big dance show and they approached us about a month ago but nothing was finalised. There are lots of other types of dance there, each performing a five-minute routine. We were going to take representatives of the entire school, but decided this would be best for you."
"What will we be doing? What will we wear?"
"You will wear plain black," and there was a groan from all of the dancers, because with the exception of Charlie they all loved dressing up and putting on sparkly make-up, "apart from Charlie, who is going to wear green and dance the solo, since she is our newest member."
She was surprised, to say the least, that none of the other girls argued about that. Later, they explained that each of them had had a turn at dancing the solo, and they felt it was only fair if she had a go. That didn't, however, stop her from being terrified as she thought about the day ahead.
The rest of the session passed without anything particularly exciting, until James stepped out of the room to take a call on his mobile. He was gone some time, and though the music was too loud for them to make out any words, the girls could clearly hear his excited voice through the door. At last he returned.
"I have just had a call from a wedding planner a little way from here. They want us to dance, and you'll be paid -- well, it's complicated, but it comes to fifty pounds each!" That was great news. None of them had had such a highly-paid commission before. "We'll do three routines. First, two of you will dance a two-hand reel, wearing green. Then, we'll perform a new treble reel step, with some of you in black and some in green. Finally, we'll have a step down the line of the slip jig."
"But we don't know the two hand reel!" they all protested. "We've never done ceili before."
Ben looked at his brother. Was this a good idea? "I'm not sure they can learn it. I mean, you want it to be good, don't you?"
"It's not for another three weeks," James argued. "That's plenty of time: they can work on it in class as well as at training. Come on, it's about time we did some ceili anyway." He laughed. "Besides, they'll learn anything if they get fifty quid out of it."
Charlie smiled at that. She was glad of the money: her flute 'pupils' didn't start for another week and it was becoming stressful whenever her parents mentioned money. If she could actually produce something to contribute, they would all sleep easily. Not that fifty pounds would cover all that many classes...
The session continued long into the night. At half past ten they finally called it a day, and the girls dispersed in various directions, most to the car park. Charlie fetched her bike and was half way out of the gate when a car pulled up. Her aching muscles protested as her brain screamed at her: 'Not safe! Get out of here!' But it was only Ben and James.
"Hey, you want a lift? I expect you're exhausted. That was a three hour class we just made you do." Gratefully, Charlie squeezed her bike into the boot of the car and climbed in. She was too tired even to think about what her parents would say about her accepting a lift with them; too tired even to notice that her big toe was bleeding and her socks were stained, because everything she had had gone into the last three hours of dance.