"I didn't run away," said Maria, looking up at him. "I just left for a little bit. I'll go back when I'm ready to, honest." She smiled suddenly. "Well, if we're going to do this, we should get on with it, right? They'll be wondering where you are. It's been more than the half-hour you said I could have."
"Very true." Mr Conor led her out of the room and down the long corridor, passing through the lobby. "There are several studios. The one we're using is pretty small, but some of the other summer school classes are in the bigger ones. There are only twenty of us today. Come, in here." She was too busy looking around at the huge building that she hadn't noticed the door on the left, but when Mr Conor opened it she saw that it was filled with students in leotards standing at the barre.
"Ah, you're back." The woman teaching them must have been an assistant or something, but she treated Mr Conor like an equal. Perhaps they were friends. "And who's this?"
Sensing a story, the girls stopped practising and turned to stare at Maria. She felt selfconscious and blushed bright red, wishing they wouldn't look at her. "Maria," she muttered. Nobody heard.
"This is Maria. She's come to have a trial class, as she may be joining us later on. Please make her very welcome, and remember that she's just as nervous as you were when you came for your first audition!" Some of the girls laughed, but Maria just blushed even harder as she took her place at the end of the barre. She could do this. She knew she could.
"Everybody, I want to see your pliés. And remember, they must be absolutely perfect. I will accept nothing less." He pressed a button on the CD player and simple practice music came on. Maria found herself remembering classes like this from her childhood; she hadn't thought she would go back to them so soon. "Maria, pull in your stomach!" he called over. "Lizzie, you're not turning out your left foot. Come on, turn it out..."
Two hours that class was, two hours of pure concentration and strain and trying to do the best she possibly could. By the end all the students were coated in sweat and desperate for a rest, running to their water bottles the moment they were allowed to go to their bags. Maria longed to join them, but Mr Conor called her over.
"You work very hard," he said, looking down at her with pity. "And I can tell you want to do this. But do you think you could work like that every day?"
"I don't know," she said quite honestly. "You would have to try me."
"Can you stay for a couple of days? Ring your mother and tell her where you are and why, and we'll arrange a room for you. I'll take you for classes and Ms Bell will cover these ones ..."
It was tempting, but Maria knew she couldn't accept. "My parents will be furious. They won't understand any of it. If you rang them it would be better, but I don't think they'd agree anyway..."
"I'll deal with your parents," her new friend said firmly, and led her out of the studio.