"Maria. Maria." Someone was shaking her. She forced her eyes open and immediately shut them again - the sunlight was bright, and she was almost blinded. "Maria, what on Earth are you doing here? It's six in the morning. You should be in your room." The speaker groaned. "Don't tell me you've been here all night."
"Don't tell me I'm still in the studio?" she counted groggily. "Oh, no ... I only meant to sleep for a little while, I was going to go back to my room, I really was." As she spoke she became more awake, and realised that it was Mr Conor speaking to her.
"You've been here all night, then? You foolish girl! You've got a performance this evening and you stay up all night?" He was laughing, though, almost as if he had half-expected her to do something like that. Like he'd seen in her eyes the determination to succeed. "Well, you're in your pointe shoes, so you've obviously got something to show me."
"Are you angry at me?" she said, sitting up and opening her eyes again. This time the light was more manageable. "I thought you'd be furious. You said I should be in bed by ten. You also said I couldn't do the dance en pointe, so I thought I'd learn it without you."
"I knew you would," he replied. "No, I'm not angry. It's exactly what I would do in your place, to be honest. If it is good, then I will let you do it, against my better judgement. I don't see, really, how I can stop you. If, however, it is not perfect, then I will not allow you to dance it on stage. Do you understand me?" He held out his hand to help her up - Maria took it gratefully.
She nodded. "That seems fair." Something seemed to click into place. "Why are you here at six in the morning? Do you come here every day at that time?"
"I warm up and dance a little on my own before breakfast," he told her, nodding. "I don't really get a time to indulge myself during the day, so it's the only moment I've got."
She knew that feeling. Back in her old life, if there was something she loved she would set aside time for it and then guard that time with her life. Her lunchtimes of writing. Her jazz classes. They took precedence, and she wouldn't give them up for anything. "You must be committed, to get up that early."
"Show me your dance," he replied, going over to the CD player. "Have you done it to music recently? As in, since our last class?"
"No. But I can try. Let me just warm up." She pulled up her legwarmers - they had slipped down while she slept - and did a few pliés to get her muscles working again. Mr Conor nodded his approval. "All right. Play the music so I can hear the speed, and then I'll go through it for you." It felt good, making the rules.
The moment the introduction started she knew she wouldn't to hear it through before she could dance to it. Just four bars later she was on her toes, reaching for the arabesque over which she had slaved so hard, leaping through the pas de chat as though it was the only way to save a life - everything she did, she did with a passion and a drive that was not present in any of the other dancers at the school.
And Mr Conor? He watched her. He didn't seem to be able to look away, his eyes fixed on her dancing.
When the music drew to a close she stopped, reached forward, her back leg behind her in a position that a week ago would have been impossible. As he took the CD from the player she gave her curtsey and stood up. "Thank you for giving me the chance to show you."
"Thank you for showing me," he replied, staring at her. "Never ... never in my career of teaching have I seen someone learn that sort of pointe work in two days. Are you sure you weren't a dancer in a former life?" He laughed. "You changed your steps slightly, am I right?"
"They didn't work how they were," Maria replied. He wasn't angry. She couldn't believe it - he wasn't angry.