Fortunately, the receptionist noticed nothing. "Torrini?" she said. "Any relation of Emiliana Torrini?" But when she saw Maria's blank face she laughed. "She's a singer. Not famous. I don't expect you to have heard of her." But she had, somewhere ... That's where the name had come from, of course. She hadn't just made it up, she didn't have that sort of an imagination.
"She did some singing on the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings, didn't she?" Maria remembered dancing to it. Gollum's Song.
"That's right." The receptionist seemed pleased. "Just sit down there and I'll tell Mr Conor that you're waiting to see him. Would you like a drink?"
"No, thank you." Sitting on one of the squashy chairs that all reception areas seem to have, Maria pulled out her phone and set it to reject all calls. She didn't want her mum calling her now.
"Mr Conor is coming down," the receptionist called over, putting down the phone with a clunk. "He's intrigued ... not had somebody ask to see him like this in quite a while. You can see him for half an hour at the most."
Maria waited and sure enough, a man of about forty appeared in the doorway of the lobby. "Miss Torrini?" he said, smiling at her. "Come along to my office and we'll have a little chat. I've heard you asked to see me. Private, you said?"
"That's right." She followed him down a long corridor. Right at the very end was a polished wooden door. The nameplate simply said, Mr J. Conor. "James?" she asked on a whim, though it could just as easily have been John or Jack.
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Oh, it's my dance teacher's name..."
"No, jazz..." Suddenly Maria felt very self-conscious. "Can we go inside? This is confidential, after all. I don't want anybody to overhear me.
When she was seated in front of Mr Conor's desk, she started to relax a little. Careful, she thought to herself, looking at the wooden grain on the surface and pretending she wasn't afraid. Don't let down your guard. You'll get into trouble. "I want to join the school," she said bluntly.
"Auditions aren't until January," Mr Conor replied automatically, frowning at her. She knew what he was thinking: why is this girl so special that she thinks she can bypass the normal application stage? Why should I listen to her? "You have to send a form in later this term."
"You don't understand." Suddenly Maria was crying. "Dance is everything to me. It's my life and my passion and my art, and it's everything I want to be. I've given up everything for it, but that's not enough. I need something more ... so I came here, looking for it. You can give me what I'm searching for, can't you? I need to dance more than I need to do anything. I dream of it every night. Oh, I know I'm too old, but I practice and I watch videos and I practice some more, and I try. I could be a dancer one day, I know I could. But only with help." She paused, gulped, wiped her eyes. "I need this. I want this. I have to dance..."
"Do you mean to tell me that you do not already take dance classes?" Mr Conor leaned across the desk, staring at her. His voice wasn't angry, just confused. Gentle. "You must know that this is impossible. All our pupils have been training here for three years already, every day, to the highest standard. But you..."
Maria bowed her head. "It is hopeless. I know that. If you tell me so, I will leave, for now. But I had to try. You must understand, sir, that this is what I want. This is all I want. This is something I would give up everything I have known to have a chance to do. I believed that this school could give me that chance. And I? I would turn that chance into something far more beautiful: a future. I would work, oh, ever so hard. I want to be the best that I can be, if you will believe in me for long enough to let me try."