"Maria, I'm sorry, but it's just not possible." It was her mother that was speaking, a stern looking woman whose dark hair was dusted with grey, though her green eyes were still as bright as stars. "You haven't the time, and we haven't the money. Besides, you are too old now. And - meaning no offence - you haven't got the figure for it either. it's in your genes."
"I have plenty of time," she replied. Maria was fourteen, going on fifteen, with dreams that no amount of practicality would dispel. If she wanted something, she would fight for it; she had never been known to give up on anything, and for that reason she was extremely talented in various areas. "I have Tuesday evenings and Wednesday evenings. And then there are weekends..."
Her mother sighed. "Enough to start, I grant you, but you know as well as I do that that won't be enough if you get serious about it. You know what they say: every day until you retire. And you don't have every day."
Sulking, Maria stormed out of the kitchen to sit at the bottom of the stairs as she often did when she was upset about something or wanted to think of a comeback to an argument. Once there, she sat with her head in her hands. Thinking. Deciding. Despairing.
"There's no good crying about it," said her mother, coming out into the hall to talk to her. She wasn't being harsh to her daughter, just truthful. Maria was sensible enough but she was the type to think only of the good things and ignore the bad entirely, even when it was staring her in the face. As she was now, by refusing to admit that the life of a ballet dancer wasn't for her.
"I'm not crying," she said, looking up. Determined, a fiery glint in her eyes that made it look rather as though she was intending to throw herself off a bridge for the good of her country or something equally noble - and stupid. "I've made my decision.
Her mother held her breath. She didn't look like she knew what to hope. "And that is?"
Maria drew herself up. "Please ring my piano teacher and inform him that I will not be taking lessons from him this term. Upon school starting, I will not fill in the form for my singing lessons either. I shall ring James presently to say that I will not be coming to classes any more." As she spoke, Maria had been unable to meet her mother's eyes, but now she looked up and Jane could see the despair in her eyes.
"But your jazz classes - you love them! And after everything ... winning that competition back in June ... you can't give up now, you were just getting somewhere." Maria's eyes said everything. "Oh, darling..."
"If that's what I have to do to get this, then I will do it." She stood up, taking her mother's hand. "But don't tell Dad yet. He won't accept that I'm serious until I prove it. Won't believe that I'm going to do this until I do it."
"I'll - I'll phone your teacher immediately. If you're really sure?"
"I'm sure," said Maria, and her mother bustled away with an odd sense of purpose, leaving her staring at her feet. Your feet are made for dancing, that's what her jazz teacher had told her at her first lesson, a year ago now. Well, she was about to find out, wasn't she?
The flyer for the ballet school was still on the stairs. Classes weren't starting for another three weeks - it was mid August - but it was a chance. She could do this, couldn't she? Only, at her age it was not likely that she would get anywhere, not with classes twice a week. She need something more, something intense ...
Twenty four hours later, clutching a black holdall and an envelope, Maria boarded the train to London. A further four hours, two misdirections and three buses later and she was where she wanted to be. Standing outside the Royal Ballet School.