Maria sat and stared at her friend. How could she be so calm? How could she dance, when it was dance that had taken her sister from her family? How could she live? "I'm so sorry," she said, putting an arm on Anna's shoulder. "I'm so, so sorry..."

"It wasn't your fault," said Anna, shrugging slightly. "And you weren't to know. What's the big deal? You never met her." Though her words seemed callous, Maria knew it was true. They couldn't sit here dwelling on the past when it was the future that was bothering them. "Come on, we should go back inside. It's not too long till the performance now."

The performance. Maria had forgotten completely about it while they talked, but now it returned and she was terrified once again. "You mean that's it? That's the story?"

"Oh, no, there's more. I didn't just magically get here. But there's nothing that I need to tell you now. It will wait." Anna smiled a little sadly and led the way inside the hall. When they reached the other girls they were all exclaiming about their costumes - obviously, this was a momentous occasion. But Maria couldn't feel happy, when that story was playing on her brain.

"I hope you've all hung your clothes up neatly," said the wardrobe mistress fiercely, and they all agreed that they had. "Well, if you're all done I'm to tell you that you can have free time until six o'clock when you need to eat before warming up and getting into costume at seven for the half past curtain." Everybody ran off, chattering, leaving Maria and Anna to talk more quietly.

"Are you going to tell me the rest of it?" said Maria. She didn't feel like she was prying, not when Anna had introduced the story in such a way. "I mean - only if you want to. It must be hard to talk about something like that."

"It's hard, but I'm used to it," the other girl said, shrugging slightly. "People are always asking me, or, if they already know, telling me they're so sorry. Half the time I've never even met them before. It's not the sort of thing I'm comfortable telling to a stranger, but after spending so much time with you recently I really felt I could trust you." It was hardly a lot of time, just rehearsals and snatched hours, and Maria wished she could repay that trust.

"I won't tell a soul," she promised. Anna grinned at her, suddenly cheerful. This was all she had needed to hear, it seemed.

They walked back to their rooms, and Maria suddenly remembered about Eleanor. They hadn't spoken at all that day - she must have been feeling quite abandoned. "Come, let's go and talk to Eleanor. I expect she's lonely." But Anna hung back.

"She won't want to talk to me. I'll go - you can have some time with her alone."

"Oh, no, please - I want you guys to talk. I mean, I don't want her to feel like she's been replaced or anything, but I don't know what to say to her any more..." At Maria's insistence they went into the room together, where Eleanor was lying on her front on the bed. She didn't seem bitter at all, but they spotted her sideways looks at this intruder and knew how she really felt.

Eventually half past five came around and they decided to split to their rooms. Just as they were walking, Anna grabbed Maria's arm. "Promise me something," she hissed, her fingernails sharp as she dug them into her arm.

"What? I've already said that I wouldn't tell anyone..."

"You said you wouldn't tell a soul. But you didn't say that you wouldn't tell those without a soul..."

The End

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