It was Maria's third full day at the Royal Ballet School. At least, she liked to think of it as though she was already at the school, though of course that wasn't the case. Every time she walked into the dining area, students whispered about her and Eleanor, and every time she walked outside she had to pinch herself to ensure that she wasn't dreaming of this place. White Lodge. It was beautiful - more than she could ever have imagined.
But now it was Thursday, and her mother would be coming to pick her up in around thirty hours. These minutes were precious. How could she bear to sleep tonight, when it was wasting time she could spend dancing? How could she bear to have a ten-minute break when she had so little time left for dance?
Mr Conor urged to think about it. "Look, this isn't the end. You know this is just a trial, and if you do well we will consider you for the school. Just because you have to go home at the end of this week, it doesn't mean you can't go on dancing. You could do well at a normal ballet school after this ... I daresay, with your previous training to start you off, you could easily get into grade four."
But Maria shook her head. "I could never go to a normal ballet school, not after this. It would be too empty. It wouldn't be enough, not now that I know what could have been. Oh, I wish I had come sooner! I wish I could know whether you would take me on..."
His face displayed nothing as he told her to stop being so silly and get on with the exercise they were working on, but when they had finished he smiled. "I'm going to be teaching you a short routine today, which you will perform with the other students tomorrow. It's the last day of the summer camp, you see, and we always put on a performance."
"Oh, but I couldn't possibly..."
"You could, and I'm going to have you dance a proper part. The other girls your age are talented and experienced, but they don't have the passion for dance that you've got. I know you can learn this before tomorrow evening, and so I am determined to teach it to you. Your mother will arrive in time for the show, so she will be able to watch."
"You'd really let me do that? In a proper costume and everything?"
"I'm not having you go on there in your practice clothes if that's what you mean," he assured her, and they began to work on the routine. It was lonely in that studio with just the two of them; Maria had felt it as soon as she came in, the great lack of 'class' and companions. It was a shame that Eleanor couldn't learn this dance too, but she had joined the main summer school class of the twelve-year-olds. A little humiliating for her, but she was small and it wouldn't make too much difference.
At three o'clock in the afternoon they were due to stop for half an hour, but Maria begged to be allowed to carry on. "I have so little time," she said. "If I stop it will be so much hard to begin again when you allow me to come back, and that will make things harder. Won't you please let me carry on?"
Reluctantly, Mr Conor agreed, and they worked again on the steps. Maria was having particular difficulty with an arabesque towards the end, as she found them very difficult to hold up. Her improved flexibility helped her, but her ankles were still weak. "Here," said her teacher, handing something that looked like a giant elastic band. "Take this, and do the following exercises." His demonstrations were easy to follow, so she did her best.
"What's it for?" she asked.
"It's to strengthen your ankles, so that that arabesque is easier. I can't have you wobbling on stage!"
Maria laughed. "Or falling over." But she quickly sobered when she remembered that with every minute spent laughing, that was a minute closer to the end of the week in the ballet school.