First Night

But it was impossible to sleep that night in the little room with its fancy floor and nicely decorated walls, however much of the light the thick black curtains kept out - even after a long, hot shower, Maria's muscles were aching so much and her brain was fizzing with activity. Eventually, at around half past nine, she got up again and walked over to the little portable barre.

She remembered this sort of thing from when she used to take ballet classes. Those ones weren't really very portable - they never moved from the large hall in the dance school. But they moved up and down according to which class was using the room - the seniors always put them higher, and the younger ones couldn't reach. It was a simple metal pole on two legs with adjustible height control, and that was all there was to it. Maria dragged it over so that it was nearer the mirror and began to work.

She started with the pliés on which they had worked so hard. After around ten minutes she felt she was warmed up sufficiently to do a few stretches, because after so long of being totally unflexible she'd had to teach herself them all. Every evening she was stretch, wherever she was. It had become a habit. Before she went to bed, she would stand with her leg on the banisters, reaching for her toes. Now she did the same on a proper barre.

At ten o'clock there was a knock at her door. Maria hadn't noticed the time passing - by now, she was intrigued by grands battements and was trying to perfect them, lifting her back leg just that little bit higher, turning her foot out just that little bit more. It didn't matter to her that she was standing there in her pyjamas because that was what she always wore at home when she was dancing.

"Maria?" It was Mr Conor's voice. "Maria, I know you went to get an early night, but I noticed that your light was on and so I knew you were awake. I came to say that it's lights out in fifteen minutes."

She looked up at the clock. "I thought you said it was ten o'clock?" she reminded him, surprised at how quickly the half-hour had passed.

"You're a little older. I forgot. You get an extra fifteen minutes." She could hear the smile in his voice, and couldn't help smiling back, though he couldn't see her.

"All right. I'll be in bed. I was just practising. I couldn't sleep." Did that sound over-keen? To practise when one could have been reading a book or texting friends or doing something else equally pointless ... Maria suddenly realised she hadn't told her mother what had happened since their brief phone conversation, even though she knew she would eager for news. Well, she couldn't say everything in quarter of an hour, so it would have to wait until tomorrow.

"Breakfast is at half past seven," said Mr Conor, and she heard his footsteps retreating. Half seven? That was the time she ate on a school day, and this was her summer holidays. It didn't seem very fair...

Finishing her exercises, Maria wiped her face with a damp cloth and got back into bed. She wasn't too sweaty, for which she was grateful. Sleeping in that sort of position was horrible.

But it was a long time before she dropped off, in an unfamiliar bed in a place that smelt of dance and with people talking dance everywhere. It was a place such as she had dreamed about ... and yet she couldn't relax there. Something wasn't right. It wasn't that she didn't feel like she belonged, it was that she felt she belonged too much for somebody who had only just arrived.

It would kill me if they said I couldn't come here, thought Maria as she stared at the ceiling. It would kill me if they told me to go home and not come back.

Then she realised what a stupid thing to say it was. She was too old. Of course they were going to say no. "Being silly," she muttered, and turning over she closed her eyes to get some sleep.

She was going to need it.

The End

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