At eight o'clock, dressed in the same smelly practise clothes as earlier, Maria pushed open the door of the studio. It was strange to be here alone, she thought, turning on the lights and staring at her reflection in the large mirror. She'd definitely lost weight in the past few days, or at least turned every bit of her fat into muscle.
There was no time to waste. She knew her steps perfectly, so it wasn't too hard to transfer them, but it seemed like a good idea to run them all through in flats first and work out what was going to be on her toes. She had watched enough performances to know what it should look like. Besides, there was that arabesque to work on ...
Half an hour later she glanced out of the window and saw several silhouettes walking to a car. Good - the teachers had left, and she was safe from their prying eyes. The only members of staff here now knew nothing about her or about dancing, so she wouldn't have any trouble from them. Maria tied her pointe shoes as she had been shown and moved to the middle of the room.
That wasn't right, she thought, looking at her reflection. It didn't look good to do that bit as it was; she'd change it at once. There. Yes, that was better. Mr Conor would never even notice that she had changed her steps, the difference was so slight. And now she could reach forward, her back leg straight, and ... yes, this was perfect.
Though still a little shaky on her toes, Maria felt that she knew what she was doing by the time she next stopped for a break. Looking at her watch, she found it was already half past nine. If she was caught here when she should have been in her room ... she ran across to the light switch and turned it off, plunging the room into darkness. Nobody would see her in here now.
She could still see, though, because the last traces of August light still showed through the window and the mirror reflected the patterns they made, casting diamond shapes on the grey dance-lino floor.
"I'm not leaving now. Not when I'm so close," she said and, gathering her courage, raised herself onto the blocks of her shoes and began her dance anew. And again. And then again, and again, until her eyes were closing and she could barely lift her legs from the ground. They felt like led. Like her shoes were filled with rocks instead of her dainty feet. But one more time - she couldn't stop now - she had to keep going...
Until at last she slumped down to the floor of the studio and lay down, her eyes closing against her will. She would just sleep for a little while, then get up and go back to her room. Why, it was only half past eleven ... the teachers wouldn't be back for a good while yet, and she was safe.
But she drifted away into dreams, a sleep deeper than any she had had for the last few days. She would not be waking up any time soon.
She dreamt that she was dancing on her toes across a stage, and everybody's parents and all of the other summer school kids were watching her. There was Mr Conor staring at her. I put a lot of trust in you, he was saying. Don't let me down. She tried to tell him that she wouldn't, but her time came to dance and the other girls called for her.
They were all in pointe shoes. You'll look a little odd, they told her. You're the only one of us not in pointe shoes.
I'm in pointe shoes, replied Maria. I learned the dance last night. And she went onto the stage with them and danced, and everybody cheered at the end. But there was Mr Conor, looking furious. I'm sorry, she told him. I didn't know you'd be so angry. I thought you were just trying to keep me safe ... but I know what I'm doing, I promise you.
And he stared at her and said, I trusted you, Maria. What do you give me in return? I trusted you.