They were just in time. Most of the seats in the stalls were filled by now, with people in glittering theatre clothes, holding opera glasses and pretending to know what they were talking about when really they were just ordinary Londoners on a night out, but with their private box, Lizzie and her father didn't have to worry about squeezing past any of them. There was plenty of room, too, for all it was one of the smaller boxes. If Grandma had been well enough to come, she would have fitted quite comfortably.
"Do you want some chocolates to eat during the performance?" said Lizzie's father, looking at the girl with her stubborn chin and her black eyes as she stared at the stage and the people. He had bought a program but was refusing to show her what it was until the interval; when they passed a sign advertising what was showing at the theatre, he had covered her eyes. But she knew already. This was the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: home of the Royal Ballet.
"No, thank you," she said. Lizzie rarely ate chocolates or sweets if she could help it. She just didn't have a sweet tooth, and it was for that reason that she was still very thin while her friends were growing more plump. That was probably why Madame loved her so much, said that she was a promising pupil ... but she ignored that thought. She didn't want to be known as 'that skinny dancer'. She wanted to be herself.
"Suit yourself." As they were settling themselves down, the curtain went up and the lights went down. The performance was about to begin.
Lizzie knew at once that she had been right. It was The Nutcracker, and though she stared at little Clara with an appropriate degree of admiration (the girl was only sixteen and she was fantastic; this was her debut) she felt nothing at all. Why, she could do that if she had the training. It wasn't particularly special. And why would she want to gallivant around on stage in a nightie, pretending to be a little girl? She just wanted to grow up.
But she changed her mind later, when it came to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Of course she knew that this was supposed to be the famous part of the performance, but she had never expected it to bring something inside her that she hadn't expected. She felt a passion - an ambition - that she had never felt before. She wanted to be that woman. Not some time in the distant future, but now. She wanted to dance that part; it had been made for her!
Her father, William, looked at her with delight. He saw the sparkle of her eyes as she stared at the stage and the way that her lips lifted in a slight smile as though she had forgotten to pout, and he knew that everything his mother had wished had come true at that moment. It was true that she had sent them to the ballet in the hope that Lizzie would be inspired, but neither of them had much hope.
"Promise me that she'll dance," the old woman whispered to him when he visited her in hospital. "Promise me that she'll be the greatest ballerina in all the world. Because she could be - she has that look in her eyes..."
"I will try."
And she said exactly what she'd always said when he was a little boy and she was a famous dance. "Not 'I will try'. 'I will'." It was a quote from a film she had loved.
"Very well. I will." He kissed her forehead as she slept once more, and thought about his daughter. Until today he had not thought that this plan could possibly succeed, but more and more now he was beginning to change his mind. That look on her face ...