The costume rehearsal went pretty much without a hitch, to Maria's relief. She was still giddy after what Mr Conor had told her and the others were finding it difficult to hold her back from celebrating all over the place, even though they knew how she was feeling. "Calm down," said Anna, laughing at her friend's excitement. "We've still got this performance to live through, don't forget." Her words sobered Maria up very quickly, as they'd touched a nerve - she was frightened about this performance, perhaps more than she had been of any other show.
"My mum's coming," she said quietly, staring at her feet. If she didn't perform well then it would be her mother who was upset: she was expecting Maria to be good after this, not realising that it took far more than a week of intensive classes to make an untrained student into a ballerina.
"So's mine." Anna shrugged. "We're all just as nervous as you, Maria, don't forget that. I don't go to the school, and nor do some of the others - the summer school is the first time we've had to do a proper performance like this. You're not alone."
"You don't go to the school?" Maria had known that, but she'd forgotten. "Did you apply at all? I feel so selfish now, celebrating that I got in when you didn't..."
"No, I didn't apply. I didn't live in the UK at the time and my parents didn't want me going abroad to come here, but if I had lived in England perhaps I would have come. Still, I had a good teacher. It would have been hard to leave her for this, as she only has her classes as an income and I could not take that from her." As she spoke, Maria picked up once more on the other girl's slightly foreign accent. So that was why!
There was a long silence while they finished changing out of their costumes and hung them up in the plastic bags designed to protect them. Some were new, designed especially for the performance, but they were mostly those for the Senior summer school, over at Covent Garden. Some were new, but weren't particularly special, just bog-standard student tutus that they had ordered in from somewhere. Others were hand-me-downs from years of school performances, and Maria's was one of these: a beautiful tutu of dark green with pale green beading, and a pair of green pointe shoes that she had been told to go off and break in.
"So," said Anna, looking at her friend. "Your tutu ... it fits?" They awkwardly made small talk for a few moments.
"Yeah. I've not worn one before. It's beautiful, isn't it?" The girls in their routine were all dressed similarly, though Maria's was the most decorated tutu because she had the lead solo. Those dancing no solos at all had plain costumes, without any beading, but they were still in beautiful colours. When they were together, the girls looked like a forest - all green and brown and dappled sunlight.
"I'm glad they gave us these. Some of the costumes are terrible ... very tacky." Anna changed the subject. "Do you have any brothers and sisters? You never talk about your family, not really."
"I've got a sister, but she's grown up and gone away. She was at university in Scotland so I didn't see her very often, and now she's living in America with her partner, who's a lawyer like her. When they argue, it's a pretty close run." Anna laughed. "My brother's still in Birmingham but he doesn't live with us in the suburbs, he's right in the centre. He's into theatre and stuff, so he's always in and out of studios and dingy theatres and stuff like that."
Maria had finished changing, her tracksuit bottoms soft against her tired legs. "What about you, Anna? Do you have any family, or are you an only child?"
"Oh, well..." Suddenly, her friend was evasive. "You see, I had a sister. It's why they didn't want me to dance. I did have a sister, but she died."
"Died? How?" People's sisters dying was something that happened in books, not real life, right? Maria was shocked.
"She, uh ... she killed herself."