To put it frankly, Rowan was terrified, not knowing what to do. He was only eighteen, having just left college, and his dancing career was hardly illustrious - well, it was non-existent, save from a few end-of-tem performances and the inescapable exams. Whereas Netta ... she was a professional, strange and beautiful and terrifying and powerful, like a storm. She was a wild thing, unpredictable at the best of times. How could he ever hope to partner her?
"Little Rowan," she said kindly, as he moved (still shaking) towards her. "Do not be afraid. This will help you to understand me, I know that. Isn't that what you want?" She smiled.
"I'm not good enough for this," said Rowan, heart sinking lower with every second that passed. "Please forgive me for the mistakes, I'm not used to such an important role." He was sure that she resented him, that she didn't want him there. James was older, stronger, better looking.
But Netta had no such thoughts. She rather liked this impulsive, foolish young man, and knew that he could help her. It was providence that brought them together now, and she would by no means overlook it.
"You will be fine," she promised, her sincerity clear in every word. "Oh, Rowan, why are you always so afraid? The fact that you are here in this dance company is a sign of your talent, surely. Only you do not recognise it."
Rowan knew what he wanted to say in reply; the words were on his lips, ready to be let go, but were cut short by the music beginning. As the accompaniment crept from the old piano, a throwback from the days when the studio was new, they had to dance. And dance they did, with their passion for this freedom shining like stars through ever lift and every twirl, their feet moving like leaves under a breeze.
At last the music came to an end. "I told you that you were good enough, Rowan," said Netta quietly, letting go of him and moving to a chair so that she could sit and take off her shoes. He did the same, feeling oddly proud. Yes, the words were quiet - was she afraid of complimenting him? - but they were high praise. "Why were you so scared?"
But Rowan could not answer, because he was so tongue-tied by the overwhelming power of that dance. Never had he felt so alive while dancing. "Is it always like that for you?" he managed to say at last, seeing the ballerina's curious look. He thought there was a trace of humour in her dark eyes, but he might have been wrong.
"Oh, yes," she replied. "That feeling is the reason I dance." With an evil grin, she added, "And the pain afterwards is why I wish I didn't." She had her foot in her lap and was massaging her toes, carefully anointing each new blister with cream.
"Pain? I don't feel any pain," said Rowan, bewildered. Only the usual aches, and he would hardly classify those as 'pain'.
"Yet," replied Netta, still smiling. "It should hit in a moment or two." And she had hardly finished speaking when he suddenly doubled over, clutching at his calf muscles with fingers that were tension-white. "I thought so. No one ever gets away with that sort of high without any of the pain. I'd say it is a fair price to pay, though." With that, Netta stood up and picked up her worn pointe shoes.
"Are you leaving?" asked Rowan, strangely disappointed.
"I'm afraid so. But look - your friend has come to talk to you. You will not be alone." She was pointing at Will, crossing the studio with a look of determination on his face.
"But I wanted to ask you something..." he began, looking away from her.
But when Rowan turned around once more, she had gone, and all that was left to say that she had been there at all was the swinging door of the studio as it rocked on its hinges.