"Are you all right?" It was dinner time, and Eleanor had joined Maria at the end of one of the dining tables. Other students - those there for the summer camp - were staring at them, but she didn't seem to be taking any notice of anything, just staring into space as though she was all alone in her room, not surrounded by people. "You're very quiet."
Maria looked up from her food. Again, it was a very healthy, balanced meal, but she was too hungry to care. Lunch had been a good four hours ago and she was absolutely ravenous. "Oh. I was just thinking." Her class had been very long that afternoon, even when Eleanor was with her, but she hadn't been able to help noticing that she could already do the steps better than the other girl.
"Penny for them?" said Eleanor, tucking into her food but still staring at Maria. "You looked pretty deep into them."
"No, it's nothing important. Just dance." Then she laughed. "As though that wasn't important. I might as well say that I was just thinking about life! But I'm fine, honestly. Come, talk to me ... tell me something funny, to take my mind off it."
Obligingly, Eleanor spoke to her of the strange things her family did. They sounded like an odd bunch. Her brother, three years older than her, was into graphics and that sort of thing, so he wanted to go and study art and animation. His name was Mark. Her sister, on the other hand, was very studious - really into maths and science, and she wanted to go to Cambridge. She was a year and a half older than Eleanor. "But you know what? One time when she was stuck on maths, Mark went and helped her. And when he was stuck on graphics, she showed him how to do it. She's useless at computers the rest of the time."
In return, Maria told her a little about her family. "Well, my parents are a little strange, I'll be the first to admit. My mum didn't want me to take up ballet this late because she was worried I'd be constantly thinking about how everyone was better than me, since they'd started later."
"That's understandable," her friend said, nodding. "I mean, they've got so much more experience. The jealousy would be terrible; you wouldn't be able to concentrate at all."
"Exactly. But that's not the sort of thing I think about it, believe it or not. I don't actually care if other people are better than me - I just want to be better than I was the day before, and not have to worry that I'm not working as hard as I could. I don't mind if I don't get the step first time as long as I do my best to."
"Really?" Eleanor shook her head, smiling. "Maria, you're too perfect, do you know that? No wonder Mr Conor likes you so much, you're like the model student."
"Hardly. I don't understand most of what he says. I try and listen when he's helping me, but it's not easy. I'm convinced that most of the time I'm just making it worse." It was something that Maria had been determined not to admit, but she decided that Eleanor could be trusted. After all, they only had each other.
"That's not what he told me. He said I should follow your example because you were good at it - far better than me, although he didn't use those words. He's amazed at how quickly you're picking all this up for someone who hasn't taken ballet classes in four years."
"Really?" Maria was astounded. "I had no idea. I didn't think I was quick at all."
They finished their first course and went to get some fruit. It was provided at every meal and, because her mother always insisted on it, Maria had got into the habit of eating at least an apple or a banana at every meal. She couldn't remember a day going by without a large amount of fruit.
"You're too perfect," repeated Eleanor, looking at the orange, grapes and banana in Maria's hands. "Like I said. You're too perfect."