"Maria." Mr Conor seemed awkward. They were alone in the studio, Maria still wearing her dance shoes, and her flushed face betrayed her eagerness - she had to know! Surely that was what he was to tell her, surely that was what he would say... "We have decided - that is, the governors and the principal and I - have decided..."
"Just tell me!" she exclaimed, fed up of all his hesitations. Didn't he understand that she had to know, because this was her life? Didn't he understand that she had already waited four and a half days and could not wait any longer. "Please," she said, more quietly. "Please tell me what you have decided. I can't bear not knowing..."
Mr Conor looked at her. Suddenly, he smiled, and she felt her spirits rise. "We have decided to let you come to the school." Maria was about to burst into tears or hug him when he put a hand on her arm to hold her back. "Wait, though. There are conditions to this."
"Tell me, I'm all ears." She stared at him, her eyes wide and imploring.
"You would have two years here if you were to come, yes? This year and the next. I do not doubt that at your school you take more GCSEs than we offer here - we give eight - but if this is what you want then we will give it to you." He paused. "At the end of this year, as we always do, we will have assessments. If your ballet is not up-to-scratch for the assessments, you will not be allowed to return for the second year. This was the governors' decision, not mine."
Maria nodded. It was a frightening prospect but she knew she could do it if she worked. Of course she would not work quite as hard as she had this week, because it would destroy her. But she could still work at it more than anybody else. "Is there anything else?"
"We feel that it would be more beneficial for you if you stayed through the half term holidays. Instead of going home, I mean. In the handbook it says that all students are expected to leave for the holidays, including international students who should go and stay with a friend, but if you are to catch up it may be necessary for you to stay and have additional coaching."
"That's fine. I want to dance." He laughed slightly at that.
"And finally, since we will need to check on your progress more often, you'll have an assessment each term, as opposed to just at the end of the year like others. You mustn't misunderstand me - there are several students that join at this age, though it's not usually a huge number. But they are all experienced and they have learned a lot already. They are on pointe..."
Maria got up and pirouetted across the room on her toes.
"Very well," said Mr Conor, laughing and staring at her with wonder. "I take your ... pointe."
There was a long moment of silence. Then Maria said, "But you mean it? You really mean it - I can come, from September?"
"Of course I mean it. Would I joke about that?" Mr Conor smiled. "Go on, go and have lunch. You've the costume fittings this afternoon and you mustn't miss that ... and of course, you'll want to ring your mother and tell her the good news, won't you?"
Maria surprised him by shaking her head. "No, I want her to see me dance first. She won't be expecting me to be good, you see, and so if she knows I've got in she'll have higher expectations. I want to completely surprise her." It wouldn't be hard. The last time she had seen her mother, she'd been dreaming of pointe shoes. Now she was wearing them.
"You're a funny thing," her teacher told her. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Now, go on - go off with the others. And remember, you'll be here again in less than two weeks."
"What? But term starts on the 12th."
"Oh, you have done your research, haven't you?" He smiled. "Don't worry, that's a good thing. Well, new starters begin a week earlier: you must have realised that with all your reading?"
"I thought that was just year sevens."
"You're new to the school. It comes to the same thing."
As she left the room, still wearing her pointe shoes (now battered and almost worn through), Maria couldn't help her joy. She had got into the school. She was going to be a ballet dancer.