The wedding performance had gone well. Charlie hadn't had a main part this time, but in a way that made the experience more enjoyable: at least she didn't have to worry about messing it up for everyone else. So she stood by the side of the stage and watched the girls in green perform the two-hand reel; she'd gone onstage and trebled her way to victory ... and then it was all over.
The bride had come up to them afterwards. "Thank you so much. You made that so special. You're all such talented dancers and performers!" To Charlie she said, "There's something different about you. Tell me, how long have you been dancing?"
"About a year and a half," she said. "But I've only been with the troupe for, oh, around six weeks or something? I'm not sure. Time flies!" She laughed. Ben came over and put his arm around her shoulder.
"She's a good one, this girl," he said. "Works impossibly hard. If the other girls would practice so much, well, we'd be a school of World champions in no time at all!" Charlie thought that was a little bit unnecessary, but she smiled charmingly.
"If you'll excuse me," she said to the bride. "I've got to change my shoes." Leaving the two adults, she returned to where all of the dancers were waiting for her, confused as to why she had remained behind. "Where did you go?" they said. Their shoes were tied by the laces around her neck and their socks were back in their bags. "We didn't see you leave."
"I had to talk to the bride," she said, puzzled. It didn't seem like that much of a big deal.
Now it was three days later, and Charlie was at training again. They had another commission coming up, this one also a forty pounds job, so there would be no slacking for them. Her shoes were almost worn through: she might have to use the money to get some new ones, since her parents no doubt wouldn't want to turf out more cash.
"Higher! Higher!" They may have said to others that Charlie worked hard, but her teachers still managed to find fault with her dancing. "Your high kicks aren't high! Get them higher!"
She was exhausted. Two 56-bar Heavy Jigs without a break for a drink, one 40-bar ... now, Charlie just wanted to sit down and hold her feet. But she couldn't let her tiredness show. She had to have stamina. That was what would let her down in competition, they said: her stamina.
"Higher!" Again, Ben shouted. Charlie gave it one more shot and then went to sit on one of the mats to watch the others. She tried to stretch her legs, extending them and holding her toes -- or trying to. Genetics had left her with 'tight hamstrings' and despite regular stretches she still found it hard to touch her toes.
"What are you doing?" asked James, seeing her struggle.
"I'm trying to touch my toes," she replied, as though it was obvious, which of course it was.
"You can't reach them?"
"I have really tight hamstrings!" Charlie had told him this several times but it did no good. "I can't help it, I get it from my dad!"
"No one was hamstrings that tight," her teacher argued. You must be able to. Surely?" But she told him that it was true. "Well, I'm amazed. No wonder your high kicks weren't high enough."